Catholic Church in India should end 'silence' over kidnapped Dalit bishop, say critics

Bishop of Cuddapah Prasad Gallela with Archbishop of Kansas City Joseph Naumann at a mass of dedication in 2013 following the renovation of St Peter and St Paul church in Kansas in the US.St Peter and St Paul Church, Kansas

The Catholic Church hierarchy in India has been accused of ignoring an attack on a Dalit bishop after three of its own priests were arrested in connection with the attack.

Bishop of Cuddapah Prasad Gallela, of the so-called "untouchable" Dalit caste, and his driver Vijay Kumar were kidnapped in April this year, blindfolded and beaten and taken to an undisclosed place where £50,000 was demanded in ransom.

Three high-caste priests were among those arrested for the crime. 

The South India Dalit Catholic Association has now condemned the Catholic hierarchy's "silence", UCA reported. In a statement, the association condems the "silence of the official church on the kidnapping and assault of Bishop Prasad Gallela by three priests of the Cudappa Diocese on 25 April."

Jesuit Priest Father AXJ Bosco, a Dalit activist in the area, sent an open letter to the president of the national Catholic bishops' conference, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis of Trivandrum, criticising the silence.

"The sad and criminal event has been published in the media," he wrote, asking why there had been "no significant response condemning the culprit priests or supporting Gallela" in the national media.

He said: "Are all the prayers, statements, promises and assurances of the hierarchy and Church leaders only in words? Is the Church leadership afraid of their caste communities; or do they not care about the Dalits even if they happen to be bishops?

"You can very well imagine what the people, especially the Dalit Catholics, would think and feel about the significant silence on the part of the official Church.

"We know that there is caste discrimination in the Church, and it is a great challenge to the Christian Community in India.

"The question to ask is - If Jesus were here, what he would have done?"

Bosco called for a "concrete" plan of action, including transfer of bishops to other dioceses when they refuse to treat Dalits as equals. 

In May this year, Gallela was supported by a rally in Kadapa city in south-east India, Crux reported.

Discrimination based on caste system is illegal in India but it has proved almost impossible to eradicate.

A Capuchin Franciscan priest, Father Nithiya Sagayam, told Crux that the Church should speak out more on the caste system: "The silence of the official Church is criminal."

He added: "Our socially discriminatory society is vigorously condemned by secular leaders who work for social justice. It is shocking that the Catholic Church and its official organisations have not responded effectively to end this evil, in spite of clear indications of caste discrimination within the Church leadership."

Gallela's attackers took three ATM cards, a silver chain with the bishop's holy cross and his iPhone.

From 2000 to 2004, Gallela served as a priest in the diocese of San Angelo, Texas, before returning to India to teach in a local seminary.