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'Catholic Church can be crowned the biggest hypocrite'

Savio Rodrigues* | Mumbai

I have no qualms in openly stating that the Catholic Church is one global institution that can be crowned the biggest hypocrite in the world.

Their hypocritical stand on sexual abuse and pastors, priests and bishops is being exposed on these counts around the world.

In 2015, in his new encyclical on environmental degradation, Laudato Si, Pope Francis not just addressed 1.2 billion Catholics but the whole world saying, “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. The ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.”

Pope Francis declared that the science of climate change is clear and that the Catholic Church views climate change as a moral issue that must be addressed in order to protect the Earth and everyone on it.

I suppose it in this fervour of the Pope Francis’s commitment to Climate Change that the Catholic Church in India has been fighting for the ‘Save Aarey’ campaign in Mumbai.

Such was the fervour to ‘Save the Environment’ of the Catholic Church in the Aarey Metro Depot issue that some parishes in Mumbai even went to the extent of using little children as fodder to push their agenda of ‘Save Aarey’.

Now it is known fact that the Catholic Church has been fighting for a land allotted for a cemetery (5000 sqmts) for decades. United Christian Community – a representative organisation of the Church won the case in 2017. However, on August 6, 2019 an MMRDA notification proposed that reservation off the plot as cemetery be cancelled and be used for the Metro Bhavan.

This apparently triggered off a disappointment in some powerful sections of the Church lobby in Mumbai.

This coupled with the on-going legal issues of ‘Tree Felling’ and ‘Aarey as a Forest’ matters at the Bombay High Court led to some Churches, Christian NGOs and its members actively coming out to fuel the #SaveAarey protest and turn it into a movement against Mumbai Metro Line 3 project under the guise of saving the environment and saving the lives of children.

Even St Michael’s Church in Mahim, Mumbai jumped on the ‘Saving the Environment’ bandwagon by putting up a hoarding stating 'Arrey, Arrey Don’t Fell Me, We Give You Life, Said The Tree’.

I do agree we should fight to save the environment but I am left a little perplexed by the stand of the Catholic Church in India. On the one hand they fight over saving the environment at Aarey and on the other hand they have vehemently and violently opposed the Madhav Gadgil report on the Western Ghats.

The Western Ghats is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Western Ghats mountain chain has an estimated 5,000 species of flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species and 325 globally endangered species.

It is currently estimated that only less than ten percent of the Ghats’ primary vegetation survives and that it has 51 critically endangered species.

Scientists at the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute at Thiruvananthapuram have published a comprehensive work which has marked 7,402 species of flowering plants in the region, out of which 5,588 species are indigenous, 376 are exotics naturalised and 1,438 species are cultivated or planted as ornamentals.

The study has revealed that 2,253 out of the indigenous species are endemic to India, with 1,273 species exclusively confined to Western Ghats.

A report in 2012 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said encroachment and illegal mining are threatening the Western Ghats.

The Catholic Church propagated that Gadgil Report was against farmers and that they would be evacuated if it was implemented. The propaganda was aimed at communal inflammation since the farmers who encroached the Ghats belonged to the Catholic Church.

But interestingly the Gadgil report does not recommend any exodus of farmers or deprivation off their agricultural land. On the other hand, it prohibits further encroachment of forest land by economic interest groups and lobbies who have been exploiting small scale farmers.

In Kerala the opposition was so strong and violent that due to the pressure from the Catholic Church and Christian lobby, another 10-member high-level working group headed by Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan was appointed to study the Gadgil report, review and suggest measures for implementation.

The Kasturirangan Committee submitted its report to the Ministry on 15 April 2013. It made several pro-farmer recommendations but demanded a complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in Ecologically Sensitive Areas (henceforth ESA) of the Ghats.

The key findings of the Indian Network of Climate Change Assessment (INCCA 2012) were incorporated in the report. The Catholic Church again made huge protests against the Kasturirangan Committee report.

The opposition was so violent that we had Church leaders such as Bishops making statements ‘Kerala will be another Kashmir’ and ‘Jallianwala Bagh will repeated here’.

The question that I am pondering over with regards to Catholic Church is why would the Gadgil Report be so vehemently and violently opposed that it could not to be implemented when all it contained were facts of environmental destruction and measures to correct them.

Secondly, if Pope Francis has been fighting for climate change, it's a huge discredit and disconnect with the Global Catholic Church and its so-called commitment to fight for saving the environment.

Thirdly, the most important question that comes to my mind is, could not the agitation for Save Aarey be bigger than the cemetery issue of the Church in the area. Could it be about more about control of people’s faith and land.

The duplicity and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church is clear for all to see.

* The writer is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of GoaChronicle. A version of this article first appeared here.

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