Storm in Church over adoption of woman by bishop

via Pioneer News Service | Kochi published on October 15, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI canonised Kerala nun Sr Alphonsa as saint on Sunday afternoon, but now he is to make another announcement on adoption of young women by bishops which many priests think is not so pious matter. The Vatican has received complaints from a host of priests under Kochi diocese about their own bishop who enraged them by adopting a young woman.

While Catholic Bishop Dr John Thattunkal tries to defend his act saying he had adopted the 26-year-old woman from Pathanamthitta for spiritual reformation as per the Vatican’s Canon laws, the parish priests in his diocese or even prelates in the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC), the apex body of all the bishops of the 29 dioceses in the State, do not think so.

Caught between the horns of a crucial dilemma, Varappuzha Archbishop Dr Daniel Acharuparampil, referred the issue to Pedro Lopez Quintana, the envoy of the Vatican in India for forwarding it to St Peter’s Balilica. Quintana has already sent the details of the complaints lodged by the parish priests under Bishop Thattunkal’s diocese to Rome. Dr Acharuparampil said he had taken the statement from Dr Thattunkal and had forwarded this also to Quintana.

The parish priests pointed out that the bishop’s justification for adopting a woman in her prime youth —that the adoption was one of the ways he had adopted for spiritual reformation — had no relevance to the Canon laws that ruled the conduct of priests. Priests of Fort Kochi, Kannamali, Kumbalangi, Aroor, Thanki and Edakochi met the Archbishop after the bishop complained to him that certain priests were trying to humiliate him over the adoption issue. Dr Acharuparampil asked the priests to wait till a reply came from the Vatican.

They said the Catholic Church had not legalised adoption of young women by priests for enhancing their spirituality. In such a case, bishops would have to adopt many young women around because several of them were in need of spiritual reformation. “The adoption of the woman by the Bishop is violation of all the precedents in the church and against the beliefs. They also rejected the allegations that a section of the priests under the Kochi diocese had formed a lobby against Dr Thattunkal.

But the bishop said he was waiting to know the position of the higher Church authorities on the matter of the adoption of the young woman and that he would react to the allegations after this came.

Dr Paul Thelekkat, spokesman of the KCBC and editor of Sathyadeepam, the church’s official organ, said it was unnatural for bishops in the Catholic Church to adopt young to make such adoptions. “As far as priests are concerned, all the human beings in front of them are their children. They are their children, spiritually. One cannot adopt a particular one from among them,” he said.

Some priests even went to the extent of questioning the personal integrity of the bishop over the issue, but psychologists and sociologists said this was unfair.

Progressive elements within the Christian Church feel that such incidents point at the need of more opening up and reforms among the clergy. They say that even the laity needs social emancipation which is a call of the times.

“We all know that the Church is not what it used to be once. Revolutions have taken place in it and so many relaxations have been brought out, even through Papal encyclicals, and this is particularly true in matters regarding money management within the system. What we need is a reformed perspective,” said the office-bearer of a leading Christian organisation.

Bishop John Thattunkal had legally adopted the young woman last month. Before that she was an adopted daughter of a priest of the Orthodox Church in Pathanamthitta. Dr Thattunkal had met the woman and the family of the Orthodox priest during a pilgrimage through Europe last Aril.

Psychologist and journalist Aneesh Panicker said the bishop could have adopted the woman out of compassion. “You cannot say that a person, just because he happened to be a priest, cannot feel love and compassion for one single individual. Such a state of mind should be seen as most humane. It is cruel and absurd to read immorality and irreligiousness in such an act,” he said.

But a priest contradicted this saying, “A priest does not just happened to be what he is.” He said one did not become a priest accidentally but with total conviction and in total agreement with the laws ruling the Church. “There is nothing wrong in adopting a woman or even doing anything that is not illegal if you are just an individual. When a priest prepares for such an act, he should look at the cassock he wears,” he said.

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