Vessel gunfire: Cardinal stirs a hornets’ nest with pro-Italy stand

via VR Jayaraj | Kochi published on February 23, 2012

Protests raged across Kerala on Wednesday against the pro-Italy stand taken by the newly appointed Cardinal of the Catholic Church, Mar George Alencherry, on the killing of two Indian fishermen in gunfire from aboard Italian oil tanker Enrica Lexie on February 15 off the Kerala coast.

Syro-Malabar Church’s Major Archbishop Mar Alencherry, consecrated Cardinal on February 18, had told Catholic news agency Fides in an interview given in Rome that the Kerala Government should not act precipitately in the case and that he had given instructions to the Catholic Ministers in the State Cabinet in this regard.

In the face of mounting criticisms, the Syro-Malabar Church tried to clarify that the Cardinal had not taken any pro-Italy stand but the news agency had distorted his words. However, this bid failed to pacify even sections of the Church itself. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy claimed that no Minister in his Government had been given any such instructions by anybody.

Archbishop Suze Pakiyam of the Latin Catholic Church in Thiruvananthapuram said the Christians in Kerala would not obey even the Pope if he made such statements. “There are efforts to involve Vatican in this but Vatican has no role in such matters. We take instructions from Vatican only on matters of faith. In other matters, we are patriotic Indians,” he said.

A senior priest of the Latin Catholic Church, a constituent of the Syro-Malabar Church, said that there were no reasons to disbelieve the Fides’ report because “they have not just reported a talk but have quoted” the Cardinal. “How could the Cardinal utter such words when the entire people in Kerala want to see the Italian killers punished?” he asked.

A spokesman of the Syro-Malabar Church in Kochi said that the Cardinal had not spoken anything that contradicted Indian interests. The priest said that Mar Alencherry had clarified the matter to the Kerala clergy from Rome and claimed that he had not spoken to any Minister in the State Government on the matter.

Fides quoted Cardinal Alencherry as saying “…the Opposition party (CPI(M)-led LDF) wants to take advantage of the situation and exploit the case for electoral reasons (in the context of an upcoming by-poll).” It should be noted that the Italian Government had said this week that the by-poll in Piravam constituency was perhaps worsening the case of the oil tanker gunfire.

The reported statement proved that the Cardinal was on the side of the killers and not the killed, alleged Opposition leader VS Achuthanandan. “Who told Cardinal that the Opposition parties were trying to cash in on the killing of fishermen?” he asked, adding that such an irresponsible statement should not have come from a person adorning the throne of a Cardinal.

Referring to the Cardinal’s statement on the instructions he had given to the Kerala Ministers, State BJP president V Muraleedharan said the Government should clarify whether the loyalty of these Catholic Ministers was towards the Church and Italy or to the country’s Constitution and people.

Derick Valentine, son of Valentine alias Jelestine (48), one of those killed in the firing from the Italian ship, said the Cardinal should have understood the grief and anxieties of the victims’ families (before making such statements). He said he would like to tell the Cardinal about the family’s pain when he returned to Kerala.

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