Vatican ambassador to India denies alleged discrimination in selection of bishops

The Papal Nuncio said the episcopal ministry in the Church “is to be intended as a service to the people and not as a position of power”

The Apostolic Nuncio to India denied allegations of “discrimination” in the appointment of bishops, an issue raised by a group of Dalit Christians following an audience with the Vatican ambassador.

In statement released on February 7, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, papal nuncio to India, said “there is no discrimination in the selection of episcopal candidates and in the appointment of new bishops.”

“The responsibility of the Apostolic Nunca is only to verify the priestly integrity of the candidates in order to establish their suitability for the office of bishop,” he said.

The prelate said there is “no distinction based on ethnicity, caste, language or social status” in the verification process.

The Nunciature issued the “clarifications” after reports quoting the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM) said the group was “highly disappointed” with the meeting on February 2.

“The Apostolic Nuncio, willing to understand more the reality of the Dalit Catholic Community, has listened attentively to the grievances presented by the DCLM,” said the archbishop in the statement.

He said the Nunciature in doing its task in verifying candidates to the office of the bishop “stringently follows clear principles of the Holy See in the process of determining the Church’s leadership.”

“In this process, the Apostolic Nunciature, aware of the contribution of the Dalit people in the Catholic Church in India, always gives consideration to Dalit candidates for episcopacy,” said the prelate.

The Apostolic Nuncio pointed out that the episcopal ministry in the Church “is to be intended as a service to the people and not as a position of power.”

“With reference to the Dalit policy issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the Apostolic Nunciature fully supports it and recommends its implementation as it states: ‘Caste with its consequent effects of discrimination and ‘caste mentality’ has no place in Christianity,’” read the archbishop’s statement.

He said that in the Catholic Church, “the mutual sense of belonging is prior to the emergence of individual groups.”

“Each particular group becomes part of the fabric of universal communion and there discovers its own beauty,” said the prelate, quoting Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli tutti.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the DCLM delegation reiterated calls for the Vatican to appoint bishops from the Dalit community in dioceses such as in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.

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 and Christian societies.

An estimated 60 percent of Indian Christians are Dalits. They also constitute about 64 percent of the Catholic population.

Following the meeting, Mary John, DCLM president, expressed confidence 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.

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.

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