Indian Catholic News

Bangalore Catholics remember murdered seminary rector

Ethnic tensions among priests believed to be behind killing, say police.

 
Kochi: 

Catholics in the southern Indian city of Bangalore are praying to find closure for the murder of a seminary rector that has brought into the open questions and issues of language and ethnicity that is plaguing the local church.

With lit candles some 300 people gathered in front of St. Peter's seminary Bangalore and prayed for the rector who was murdered March 31, three years ago.

The gathering occurred after Mass at the nearby chapel of Claretion House in Bangalore Archdiocese, where ethnic rivalries have been simmering for almost three decades. Police say the murder of Father K.J. Thomas was part of this tension within the clergy.

The archdiocese or seminary were not directly involved in organizing the candlelit vigil, said Arun Fernandes, one of the organizers who added that eight lay groups within the archdiocese participated in the gathering.

"The hierarchy and the priests in general keep away because they are afraid of getting entangled in the murder and related controversies," Fernandes told ucanews.com, March 31.

Police investigators said 12 people, six of them Catholic priests, allegedly were involved in murdering Father Thomas. Three suspects, including two priests, are currently in jail while the remaining nine have yet to be arrested.

Both lay and church leaders agree that the tension started when local Kannada language-speaking Catholics began to demand prominence for their language over Tamil, which is spoken by migrants who are the majority of Catholics in the archdiocese.

Tamils traditionally wielded power in the pontifical seminary, which missionaries of the Paris Foreign Mission Society began in the Pondicherry area of Tamil Nadu in 1778, and moved to Bangalore in 1934 because of political changes at the time.

But three years after the murder, the language-based superiority and ethnic rivalry have "almost disappeared," said Jesuit Father Joseph Mathias, who took over as the new rector last year after working in northern Indian missions for several years.

He told ucanews.com that the Bangalore Archdiocese and the seminary could not take part in any remembrances because the seminary's students were on holidays. "With just two priests here what program can we have?" he asked.

Father Mathias said that other practical reasons ruled out having an anniversary Mass inside the seminary chapel, which he added was currently closed.

Death of an accused

One of those accused over the murder, Father Chowrappa Selvaraj, 62, died March 16 from acute pancreatitis and heart disease.

Father Selvaraj had backed the primacy for Kannada-speaking locals and said that Tamil migrants and Konkani-speaking Catholics from western Mangalore have occupied positions of power in the archdiocese. He believed that those Tamils had ignored the education and development of local clergy and Catholics.

"It is only natural to hate those who oppress and neglect you," said a Kannada-supporting nun, who requested not to be named.

According to the nun, division based on language and ethnicity is pervasive in the region and has created tension even among convents.

The funeral for Father Selvaraj further brought out divisions among clergy. Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore did not attend Father Selvaraj's funeral Mass and cited the priest's will that stated the archbishop "should not say the requiem Mass for me."

Father Selvaraj wrote in his will that "in case of my death during my serving in the jail, the archbishop of Bangalore may not be allowed to see me, touch me or bless me."

Hundreds of Kannada-supporters attended the funeral Mass. Bangalore Archdiocese has some 135 priests, but only some 25 pro-Kannada priests attended the funeral and burial conducted in Mariapura, a Kannada village parish some 40 kilometers away from Bangalore city.

"How can we attend it, when our bishop was asked not to be part of it," asked a priest of the archdiocese when asked why others failed to attend.

The arrested and jailed priests have pleaded innocence and have appealed to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India to push for reinvestigations into the case by the federal Central Bureau of Investigation.

Source: UCAN

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