Canon law permits ‘Secret Marriages’ for Bishops

published on October 20, 2008

Bishop apologises to believers, priests; Ready to withdraw adoption

Pioneer News Service | Kochi

The controversy that erupted recently in the Catholic Church of Kerala over the ‘spiritual adoption’ of a mature woman by the Kochi Bishop seemed to be moving into an anticlimax on Monday with the Bishop airing his preparedness to withdraw from the adoption if the Papal office so desired. However, Church leaders thought that the damage had already been done as the incident had sparked off raging discussions regarding the need for reforms in the Catholic Church.

Bishop John Thattunkal of the Kochi diocese of the Latin Catholic Church on Monday told a meeting of the vicars of the parish churches and the priests of the diocese through a written letter that he was responsible for the controversy, which had caused a crisis of credibility and faith among the laity. He apologised to the priests and believers of the diocese for creating such a situation.

“I know my deeds have caused confusion and concern among the laity and also among the priests. If the Church authorities ask me to withdraw from the adoption, I am prepared to do so,” he said in the letter. The issue of adoption by Bishop Thattunkal is now before Pope Benedict XVI pending his decision.

Archbishop Daniel Acharuparampil of the Latin Catholic Church’s Varappuzha Archbishop, under which Bishop Thattunkal’s Kochi diocese came, had forwarded the complaints filed against the Bishop by several parish vicars to Apostelic Nuncio (the Vatican’s envoy) to India Pedro Lopez Quintana, who submitted it to the Pope.

Both Archbishop Acharuparampil and Pedro Quintana have reportedly recommended action against Bishop Thattunkal as they are convinced that he had broken the laws of the Church as well as those of the land. Church sources said the decision of the Papal office on the issue could come ‘any moment’.

Fifty-eight-year-old Bishop John Thattunkal had last month adopted Sony, a mature woman from Pathanamthitta district, who was then said to be of 27 years of age (but later reports said that she was well into her late 30s), raising a storm in the Kochi diocese of the Latin Catholic Church. The Bishop also tried to legally register the adoption of the woman, who was the adopted daughter of CK Joseph, a priest in the Malankara Orthodox Church. The Bishop had reportedly met the woman during a pilgrimage through Europe.

Making matters worse for himself, the Bishop also had held a holy mass in his palace on October 10 jointly with Priest Joseph, who had undergone disciplinary action from his own church over complaints about his relationship with Sony. Rumours had arisen to the effect that the woman was staying at a separate house near the Bishop’s palace though the Orthodox priest claimed that she was still living at his residence in Pathanamthitta district.

At the Monday meeting at the Bishop’s House in Kochi, in which about 200 vicars and priests took part, Bishop Thattunkal tried to explain that he had adopted the mature woman only spiritually after he had found certain stately spiritual qualities in her. He said he tried to register the adoption in order to get legal protection.

Influential Church leaders in Kochi said that the confessions and readiness for atonement by the Bishop did not look sincere as he could have chosen this path convinced that there was no other option left for him since action from Rome was almost certain.

“In the first place, priests are not permitted to adopt. Secondly, the laws of the land do not allow adoption of mature women. Third, there is nothing called spiritual adoption. When a priest adopts someone as his own, his ability to love all alike ends there. Also, Bishop Thattunkal had deposed before the Archbishop and he had no justification to offer for the adoption,” said a priest in the Archdiocesan office.

At least one laymen’s association pointed out that the Bishop had actually not adopted the woman but could have entered into a secret marriage, which it said was permitted by the Canon laws of the Vatican. It said this was one of the several examples of how the high priests were betraying the faithful.

“A believer has to announce his or her decision to marry in the parish church on three consecutive Sundays while the bishops could marry in secret. Everybody knows that such secret marriages are taking place in the Church. Then why not be transparent about it,” asked ML George, secretary, Catholic Layman’s Association.

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