Still No White Smoke, Only Dark Clouds

A new Pope was elected and consecrated within a time span of about 20 days by the Roman Catholic Church. The Diocesan Council of the North Kerala Diocese elected a panel for Bishopric on 9 January 2013. The incumbent bishop formally retired on 23 March. In fact, the position was vacant since the incumbent bishop became seriously sick since October 2012. There was nothing that stood in the way of consecrating a new bishop for the diocese. But nothing happened and the diocese is languishing under a Moderator’s Commissary, who works with a different set of priorities than shepherding the people. Many of the decisions of the Executive Committee of the diocese remain unimplemented. The transfer of pastors has not happened since the last two years. This criminal negligence of the Synod in nominating and consecrating a bishop for the diocese can only be attributed to their eagerness to grant the position of Bishopric to the highest bidder that comes knocking at their door - a common practice for the last several years.

After the election of the panel, there has been no communication with the diocesan officers except to make an announcement of the panel in all the churches so that responses may be elicited from the congregations and church members. They were given 21 days to respond and those 21 days are also over. During this period, various rumors were spread with the aim of compelling the members of the panel to bribe the powers that be.

One such rumor was that the election of the Bishopric panel is not valid as deacons were allowed to vote to elect the panel as members of the Diocesan Council.  Now, it is learned that the synod court will be meeting to decide on this matter on 2 April in Chennai. In our previous post in this website, The Suitcase Politics Still Rules the Roost, we dealt with this matter in detail highlighting the absurdity and maliciousness of this propaganda. But it seems that the moderator and the synod officers would still like to proceed with this false allegation and make the elected panel for bishopric null and void using the good office of the synod court. This is a matter that the moderator himself could set aside as frivolous with the powers given to him under the CSI constitution, Chapter VI/29. Instead, we fear that the synod is going ahead for a repeat of what happened in the Nandyal Diocese. Hence, we are forced to reiterate some of the things that we have already brought to the notice of the synod and the public.

First, by its very use of the term ‘court’, it becomes mandatory for the synod court to adjudicate any matter referred to it only after giving notice to the parties concerned and after having heard their defense or arguments or explanations. It cannot take decisions ex parte and without due process of hearing the arguments. So, till date the members of the panel or the diocesan officers have not been intimated of any accusations leveled against them or the election procedure.

Second, as per the CSI constitution VI/5: “The Diocesan Council that exists at the time of the receipt of the mandate by the Secretary of the Council shall elect the panel.” The Diocesan Council that existed at the time of the receipt of the mandate had deacons as its members and no new members were added to it. In other words, the Diocesan Council that elected the panel for Bishopric in 2013 is the same as the Diocesan Council that elected the Diocesan Officers and the Synod representatives in 2011.

Since the inception of the diocese, deacons in active service were always members of the Diocesan Council. The 1984 Constitution of the NKD, which had been recognized as valid by the Synod for many years states (Ch 5/34-c): “Composition of the Diocesan Council: All Presbyters and Deacons in active service according to the Standing Service Rules of the Diocese.” It is certain that Bishops K. C. Seth, P. G. Kuruvilla, and K. P. Kuruvilla were elected to bishopric by the Diocesan Councils constituted as per this constitutional clause. Nobody raised any objections regarding the validity of these elections.

This is in agreement with the governing principals of the CSI, which acknowledges the tradition of each church denomination that was brought into the union and its commitment to foster those distinctive traditions. Inclusion of the deacons in active service to the Diocesan Council represents the reformed historical legacy of the Basel Mission which had a specific order of deacons in addition to presbyters that rendered active service in the church. This was all the more so in the context of not having enough presbyters to shepherd all the parishes in the diocese.

The Church of South India has always recognized separate constitutions for each diocese so that their distinct histories and traditions were respected and represented. The new constitution of the North Kerala Diocese, which came into effect on 10 February 2009, once again states that the Diocesan Council is composed of “All Presbyters and Deacons in active service of the diocese.”  (5/34c) This constitution and the Diocesan Council constituted accordingly had been the instrument by which the representatives to the present synod were elected. If this constitution is defective and the Diocesan Council that was formed accordingly is invalid, the Synod structure itself must be declared null and void as it is a product of an ill-legitimately constituted Diocesan Council.

It must be further noted that that Mr. M. M. Philip, the General Secretary of the CSI Synod, was the observer to the Diocesan Council meeting constituted as per the present constitution of the North Kerala Diocese (Ch.5/rule 34 c) that elected Bishop K. P. Kuruvilla to the panel of Bishopric in 2007. He had not found any anomaly in this election. How can he have a different reading of the situation now?

We are forced to reiterate what we have already stated in our previous posting: “It is as clear as day light that the present composition of the Diocesan Council does not in any way contravene the basic structure and content of the CSI Constitution and it had been consistently followed all these years without causing inconvenience or loss to anybody. It is our prayer that the Synod will not play second fiddle to these lobbies who are only interested in abuse of power for self-aggrandizement. The people in North Kerala Diocese had suffered enough under the rule of a despotic Bishop whose megalomaniacal ways had scattered ‘the sheep’ and destroyed congregations. If not for the sheep why do we need Bishops and Presbyters?  The Synod remained a silent spectator during these periods of turmoil. Why do we need a Synod?” What service do they render to the church except to act as a bottle neck and dead weight that swindle its valuable properties and the good will donations of our partners across the globe?

The plight of the members of CSI is that of the Israelites who asked Samuel for a King. God reminded the people of the ways of a king; the oppression, exploitation and violence they may have to suffer from a king. (I Samuel 8) But the people refused to listen to the warning of God. Finally, God gave in to their adamant attitude and gave them a king in the person of Saul and the people of Israel had to suffer on account of it. In the formation of CSI we did not ask for this sort of an episcopacy or synod structure; we asked for only a historic episcopate in a constitutional form and a synod structure to maintain the unity of the church in Faith and Order. But, episcopacy has become a menace to the Church of South India. The worst fears of the non-Episcopal traditions that it would become monarchical episcopates have come true. Who among them is there without obvious criminal charges and fraudulent land dealings?

The Synod and the Episcopacy in particular have become institutions that “tie up heavy loads and put them on the men’s shoulders.” People will no longer tolerate this nonsense; people are forced to think even of seceding and remaining independent. Driven to the walls, the North Kerala Diocese will have no other option but to secede from the synod and consecrate a bishop for its own.

If the smoke turns out to be black on April 2, we will be compelled to call a meeting of the members of the Diocesan Council, senior members of the church, retired pastors and other important person from all walks of life to decide the future course of action. There should be wider solidarity built up to confront these forces who are devoid of any sense of probity, propriety and reasonableness. In this effort, we may also have to draw in the wisdom and support of our partner churches across the world. However, we wish and pray that wisdom will prevail and the Synod will act with responsibility in the long term interest of the Church.


T J John said...

consecrat our own bishop

Post a Comment