Priests on a mission – Emotional blackmail must be resisted

published on April 7, 2012

It is disgraceful that, having failed in its diplomatic efforts to secure the release of Italian marine guards accused of shooting dead two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in February, Italy should now blatantly resort to playing the religion card. What other purpose can there be for two Catholic priests to arrive in Kerala from Italy and visit the families of the victims who happened to be Christians? The fact that these priests conducted prayers for the soul of the departed fishermen is only a façade for their real and nefarious design — which is to persuade the tragedy-struck families in the name of religion to accept some sort of an out-of-court settlement. That settlement would no doubt involve the payment of an attractive compensation to the family members, with the bonus being the blessings of the priests. Italy perhaps believes that such an arrangement will pave the way for its accused nationals to return home. The visiting missionaries have done their profession — or divine calling, if you like — no good by undertaking this mission, because the trip has nothing to do with the spread of love and compassion. They are seeking to emotionally blackmail the family members of the deceased by invoking a shared religion. This is patently unacceptable and the priests should be evicted from the country right away. Ironically, while the priests have been advising the victims’ families to forgive the Italians and forget their sins, the accused men have shown no remorse over their deed. Instead, they have justified their decision to shoot to kill, claiming they had acted under the impression that the fishermen were pirates. The accused men are now being tried under the country’s criminal justice system and they cannot be allowed to escape the law of the land, regardless of sentiments in Italy. That Italy should have taken recourse to this deplorable act of using missionaries to prevail upon the bereaved families to abandon their fight for justice, is bad enough. What is worse is that the Government of India should have allowed these missionaries to travel to Kerala and meet the family members of the killed fishermen. Given that such visits have the potential to influence the course of investigation and justice, the Union Government should have outright denied permission to the priests. More so because the Government has remained steadfast in its resolve to bring the culprits to book despite tremendous pressure from Italy to sweep the case under the table and forget about it. It’s time the Government categorically told Italy that such pressure tactics will not work and may in fact prejudice the case against the accused.

This is not the first time though that religion is being used by vested interests in a bid to influence the issue. Less than two months ago, Syro-Malabar Church’s Major Archbishop Mar George Alencherry had advised the Government of India not to act “precipitately” against the two Italian nationals. Since the Major Archbishop had then only recently been consecrated a Cardinal by the Vatican, suspicions naturally arose on the rising interest of some members of the Church in a sordid affair which has nothing to do with matters of faith. But now that the matter is before the court, it should be expected such extraneous pressure will fail to derail the process of justice. On its part, the Government should not strike a deal with Italy on the issue.

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