Monday, 16 April 2012

A reply to Bishop Prakasam's general email

Bishop Moses Prakasam of the Diocese of Nellore
I have written today to Bishop Moses Prakasam, in response to the general email  he wrote on 2 April. My text is reproduced in full, below. 

In summary, my reply takes issue with the offensive focus of Bishop Prakasam's email, which instead of addressing the situation of his priests Gali Arulraj and Vatakili Paulinraj, makes unjustified judgments about, and criticisms of, the motives and attitudes of the correspondents and supporters of Enable he is addressing.

Questioning whether Bishop Prakasam's words are empty rhetoric or actually have substance, I raise a series of questions, challenging whether it is truly loving and merciful of the bishop not to suspend Arulraj but to let him continue to function as a priest.

In particular, I remind Bishop Prakasam that in May 2007 he had said that he was going to initiate a canonical process to bring a conclusion to the status of Gali Arulraj.  I ask him whether he was being untruthful then, or whether something happened after that date to make him change his mind to the extent that he is unwilling now even to suspend Arulraj from priestly ministry.

I look forward to receiving Bishop Prakasam's answers to the pertinent questions I have asked him.

Reply to Bishop Prakasam's general email

Dear Bishop Prakasam,
Recognising how busy you would be during Holy Week and Easter I thought it would be better to wait until now before replying to the general email you sent on 2 April.
As you know, since our first meeting in January 2007, days after your installation as Bishop of Nellore, I have written to you countless times not only about the scandal caused by your two priests, Gali Arulraj and Vatakili Paulinraj, but also about the additional concern arising from your refusal to discipline them.
It was therefore with considerable disappointment and dismay that I read your general email.  I can hardly believe that, after more than five years of discussions with you – in person and in print – you can fail to grasp how much concern is caused by your inaction.  You begin your email saying that it is never your intention to offend anyone. And yet, the central part of your reply is extremely offensive.
The main part of your email is paragraph no. 3, which you break down into six parts. Here you treat shabbily those who have raised a legitimate concern with you.  Instead of addressing their complaint you level all manner of criticisms against your correspondents: you present them as being vengeful; you suggest they want to cast out Arulraj as a fugitive and wanderer; that like the elder brother of the prodigal son they are lacking generosity of spirit; moreover, that they are unwilling to pray for Arulraj’s repentance and that they don’t want him to receive forgiveness and mercy; that they are in effect throwing stones at him.
By contrast, you suggest that, unlike all of your correspondents, you are walking the path of love and mercy, forgiveness and hope.
With respect, Bishop Prakasam, what you have written is both offensive and ignorant. I know personally many of the hundreds of supporters of Enable who feel very badly betrayed by your priests as well as by your inaction.  I do not know a single person among them who thinks Arulraj is fit to remain a priest. Among the supporters of Enable are some of the most generous, loving, merciful and compassionate people you could hope to meet. To effectively slander them in the way you have done is nothing short of disgraceful, and I invite you to withdraw your ill-considered criticisms.
Of course, I cannot speak for the attitude of mind or spirit of each of your correspondents.  But, in fact, I do not need to. What you have been asked to address is not your correspondents’ (or my own) failings or sins but the scandalous actions of the two priests of your diocese, Arulraj and Paulinraj.  Not once do you even acknowledge that your correspondents have a legitimate grievance with respect to the actions of your two priests – as well as a legitimate grievance with respect to your allowing Arulraj (in particular) to continue to function as a priest.
It is easy to quote scriptural passages about searching out the lost sheep, and seeking to overcome evil with good, and to speak of love, mercy and forgiveness. And as it is easy to be deceived by empty words (which, as you will know, St Paul warns against – Eph 5:6),  I trust that you will be willing to demonstrate whether there is any substance in what you say by addressing the following points:
  1. You speak of forgiveness and mercy.  Have Arulraj and Paulinraj acknowledged their gross wrongdoing with respect to embezzling in excess of one million pounds, and abusing their positions as priests in order to enrich themselves.  You suggest that your correspondents are unwilling to forgive. But have Arulraj and Paulinraj acknowledged their crimes and their sins and sought forgiveness and mercy?
  2. As far as I am aware there has been no indication whatsoever that either priest has acknowledged their wrongdoing and sought forgiveness.  Moreover, given the gravity and the public nature of their offences there would be a need for them to make a public demonstration of their contrition, and a willingness to make amends to those they have wronged.  This includes donors from Enable and other agencies whose donations were embezzled, as well as the many hundreds of disabled children who suffered serious deprivation as a result of their thieving. Can you please tell me what sign either Arulraj or Paulinraj has given you to indicate contrition and a willingness to make amends? And can you please tell me what sort of action you believe is necessary for them to demonstrate that they sincerely wish to make amends for what they have done?
  3. In the absence of contrition and willingness to make amends, do you really believe that it is fitting for Arulraj and Paulinraj to exercise either a public ministry as parish priest (as is currently the case with Paulinraj) or an ‘unofficial’ ministry (as has been the case with Arulraj since 1997/1998)?
  4. You criticise your correspondents for lacking love and mercy.  Given the reality of what is involved in the priestly offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, and the reception of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion, how loving and merciful is it to ignore the sacrilegious priestly actions of Gali Arulraj, when he has been living a way of life for many years that the Church identifies as being ‘mortal sin’? Is it not, in fact, loving and merciful and fatherly to suspend Arulraj from any priestly ministry for the good of his own soul?
  5. Do you truly believe it is acceptable not only for Gali Arulraj to exercise his priestly faculties ‘unofficially’ now, but that he might even eventually resume an official ministry? If you do not, why have you not even suspended him from ministry now and initiated (if not concluded) the process leading to his dismissal from the priesthood?
  6. If you do believe it is possible for Arulraj to one day resume an official priestly ministry, where is your concern and compassion for the woman regarded as his ‘wife’ and also for the children he has fathered?  Has not Arulraj chosen a new way of life which brings responsibilities to provide for his ‘wife’ and children?  Given the choices he has freely made, should you not be encouraging and assisting him to live a good and honest 'lay man's' life as a husband and father, rather than perpetuating the scandal of his being a priest with a ‘wife’ and children, who is ‘earning a living’ by embezzling funds intended for charitable purposes?
  7. You say “I shall continue my efforts of going out in search of the lost sheep.”  According to your correspondence with me, you have not met Arulraj even once since you became the Bishop of Nellore in January 2007.  You told me that he has refused to meet you.  Your words about seeking the lost sheep sound to me like empty rhetoric, designed to suggest that, unlike your correspondents, you are concerned about Arulraj’s wellbeing.  Perhaps you can give some idea of the efforts you have made in searching out the lost sheep, Arulraj? Perhaps you could also explain why it is not possible to suspend Arulraj from all priestly ministry while also seeking him out as a lost sheep?
  8. I find your last remark about overcoming evil with goodness particularly offensive.  In May 2006, when Arulraj realised that Enable was on the verge of discovering his embezzling, he closed down the centres for disabled children.  A few months later he gathered together some of the children to give the semblance of caring for them after he received adverse media publicity in India. Your predecessor, Bishop Balaswamy, told me that he sought to overcome evil with goodness, by showing the diocese’s commitment towards helping some of the children adversely affected. Enable entered a commitment with the diocese in November 2006 to fund a small project for which the diocese had responsibility.  It was understood that the number of children being supported would be quite small, but Enable undertook to fund it for an initial two year period and then to review the situation.  By May 2007, less than four months after your installation as bishop you had unilaterally closed down the project without even discussing it with Enable.  Where was your compassion for the children who, having been so badly let down by Arulraj were subsequently ‘dumped’ by the diocese?  Why were you so keen to abandon the attempt by Bishop Balaswamy to overcome the evil of Arulraj’s action by the Diocese (with Enable) doing good for at least some of the affected children? Perhaps you could tell me what you did to ensure the wellbeing of those children adversely affected by your decision (though I doubt if you will given that I understand your answer to this question would be ‘nothing’)?
Bishop Prakasam, I have read your email several times, and I have reflected on it carefully. It clarifies that Gali Arulraj has not been excommunicated and that the matter under discussion is not one that affects only your local church but is of international concern.  Other than that, it is bitterly disappointing.  How easy it is to use the language of love, forgiveness and mercy – but how bitter it is to hear those words when they are devoid of real substance.  It is particularly disappointing to see a Bishop attempt to defend his inaction by suggesting that those criticizing him are really the ones to be censured for their (supposed) lack of mercy, forgiveness and charity. That is a shabby defence and I hope you will withdraw it.
Most of all, I am puzzled as to why you should have said in May 2007 that you were initiating a canonical process to bring about a conclusion to the status of Gali Arulraj – and yet since then you have done absolutely nothing to even suspend him from priestly ministry.  Were you being untruthful in what you said in May 2007? Or what happened that you should have changed your mind?
We expect our bishops to be men of honour, who are true to their word, who do not take lightly the gross misconduct of their priests, who are concerned about the dignity of the priesthood and the worthy celebration of the sacraments.  It has been a very unfortunate experience for myself and others in Enable to have been so badly deceived and betrayed by two priests of the Diocese of Nellore.  That you, as their bishop, should now give them your support, and be so indifferent to making amends, upholding justice, and restoring confidence in the priests of your diocese, would be considered by most reasonable people as beyond belief.
In your email you attempted to explain why, contrary to the requirements of canon law, you insist on letting Gali Arulraj function as a priest.  As you have decided to place yourself outside the framework of canon law then your judgments inevitably invite the scrutiny of others, and you have to be willing to answer the legitimate questions that have emerged from your defence of your (in)action.  I trust that you will be willing to address the specific questions asked of you in this letter.
I look forward to your reply.
Yours sincerely,
Colin Harte