A group of India’s Dalit Christians has reiterated calls for the Vatican to appoint bishops from the Dalit community in dioceses in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.
In a meeting with the apostolic nuncio to India this week, the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM) appealed that a Dalit bishop be appointed to the Archdiocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore.
The group said that appointing a Dalit bishop would provide a fair representation to the community.
Dalit Christians are “low-caste” persons in India who have converted to Christianity from Hinduism and are still categorized as Dalits in Hindu, Christian, and Islamic societies.
An estimated 60 percent of Indian Christians are Dalits, while they constitute about 64 percent of the Catholic population.
Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, apostolic nuncio to India and Nepal, however, reportedly told the group that he is not empowered to recommend any name to become bishop.
“We just scrutinize the names suggested by the Council of Bishops and forward it to the Vatican,” he said.
Mary John, president of DCLM, is confident that the papal nuncio would initiate steps “to stop caste discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion of Dalit Catholics from the mainstream Church and its hierarchy.”
He said Dalit priests should not be treated with caste prejudice and considered unworthy for the bishopric.
“If a non-Dalit archbishop is appointed to the said archdiocese, we should not be held responsible for any resulting turmoil. We would not hesitate to approach the government and the courts,” said John in an interview with LiCAS.news.
He said India’s Catholic bishops’ conference has acknowledged discrimination against Dalits in the Church but has not taken any tangible steps to stop it.
Since the 1990s, DCLM has been protesting the alleged exclusion from the hierarchy of Dalits. In 1993, the first Dalit bishop was appointed to the Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry region, and three more were appointed in the next 15 years.
The group, however, said that since 2007 the momentum seemed to have stopped.
Only 11 out of 160 bishops of India are Dalits, and Tamil Nadu and Puducherry have just one Dalit bishop.