Catholics in India’s Tamil Nadu express dismay over appointment of new bishop

Only one bishop comes from the Dalit community among Tamil Nadu's 17 Catholic bishops

Catholics in India’s Tamil Nadu state have expressed dismay over the appointment of a new bishop, who is non-Dalit, in the predominantly Dalit diocese of Salem.

“How many years will the Dalit still have to wait (for a Dalit bishop)?” said Father Z. Devasagaya Raj, former national secretary of the Commission for Scheduled Castes of the Catholic bishops’ conference of India.

The priest told AsiaNews that among the 17 Catholic bishops in Tamil Nadu “there is only one bishop from the Dalit community.”

He said the Dalit people have been marginalized and many in Tamil Nadu “have been pleading to the Vatican to appoint Dalit bishops in six vacant dioceses.”

“The first appointment after the arrival of the new nuncio to India disappoints the Dalits,” said the priest.

Pope Francis this week named Father Arulselvam Rayappan, 60, from the Archdiocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, as the new bishop of Salem in Tamil Nadu.

Ordained priest in 1986, Father Rayappan has a doctorate degree in Canon Law from Urbaniana University in Rome and led the Pontifical Institute of St. Peter in Bangalore.

From 2010 to 2018, he served as the secretary of the Commission for Canon Law and Legislative Texts of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

The Diocese of Salem is in the Ecclesiastical province of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, where earlier this year members of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement took to the streets to demand the nuncio appoint a Dalit archbishop.

Jesuit priest A. X. J. Bosco, told AsiaNews that the appointment of a non-Dalit “is a clear injustice.”

“Since 2004, eight bishops have been appointed and a candidate from this majority group has never been chosen,” he said.

“The bishops’ conference has a Dalit empowerment policy that says that the caste [system] is a sin, yet it seems that Church leaders continue to cherish this system and do not seem to see that it goes against the very basic tenets of Christianity,” said Father Bosco.

Dalit Christians are “low-caste” persons in India who have converted to Christianity from Hinduism or Islam and are still categorized as Dalits in Hindu, Christian and Islamic societies. An estimated 42 percent of Indian Christians are Dalits.

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