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 Blooming Stars

Lacking Empathy and Compassion

            Two news items shocked me last week (the week of March 16-22, 2014).

1. The series of tragic events that Professor T. J. Joseph of Newman College, Thodupuzha, suffered starting in July of 2010 and culminating in the suicide of his wife and life-mate on March 19. To summarize the events: Professor Joseph’s right wrist was severed in front of his mother and sister near his home by extremely radical, fundamentalist, and terrorist Muslims for alleged defamation of Prophet Muhammed. He underwent an operation that lasted 16 hours. His son was hospitalized after being beaten up in police custody. The college suspends Joseph reportedly for hurting the religious sentiments of the Muslim community. Police files a case against Joseph for causing religious hatred. His suspension and eventual dismissal from the college caused him and his family extreme financial hardships. Mahatma Gandhi University, to which Newman College is affiliated, revokes Joseph’s suspension. A Kerala court acquits Professor Joseph of all charges. The college management fails to re-instate Professor Joseph even though he was cleared of all charges by concerned authorities such as the court and the University before his impending retirement on March 31, 2014.

2. The arrest of two priests and an altar boy for the alleged horrible murder of Fr. K. J. Thomas, rector and theology professor of St. Peter’s Pontifical Seminary near Bangalore. The report stated that the accused, jockeying for power and control of the seminary, confessed to their crime. To update the news I want to report that the Diocese of Kothamanangalam has decided to re-instate Professor Joseph, effective March 28, just before his retirement due on March 31, on humanitarian grounds, ostensibly under a great deal of pressure, so he can receive his retirement benefits. I must also say that he did lack some prudence or discretion in that the controversial item in his question paper could lead to misunderstanding in a very emotionally charged multi-religious community.

            A very concerned catholic friend of mine brought to my attention a Manorama TV program of March 21 called Counterpoint. He wanted me to watch it and make my comments. I watched it on my computer, and was affected by the lack of empathy and compassion of the priests representing the Diocese of Kothamangalam. Both the priests representing the management were defensive, and their arguments for delaying the right decision were not at all convincing. At least one person in the top management of the diocese was in priestly training with me in Jnana Deep Vidyapeeth, Pune, where I myself became a professor training priests before I left the Jesuits. That the diocese would follow the advice of a lawyer rather than make decisions in tune with the teachings of Christ, who was the epitome of compassion, deeply disappointed me. It was odd that a sister of Professor Joseph, who is a nun, had to appeal to the church authorities to do the right thing.

            Justice delayed is justice denied as the great Martin Luther King, Jr., said. It is adding insult to injury when it is implied that Professor Joseph is granted on humanitarian grounds what he has a right to. The management also left in the minds of persons an impression that they made the decision at the last minute and that too under enormous moral pressure. I must also add that the late Cardinal Carlo Martini (a papabilis: someone who could be elected as pope) said in an interview that the Catholic Church is 200 years behind times. I think the Kerala Catholic Church is out-dated by 300 years. That Professor Joseph put up with his long-drawn agony, suffering, and indignities with forbearance shows that there is still hope for the Church.

            The ghastly murder of Fr. K. J. Thomas in his own institution that trains priests who are custodians of virtues is just unthinkable. It is reminiscent of what an officer said after seeing the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father in the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark.” It is also reminiscent of the dark Middle Ages where such horrors were not unknown. It clearly indicates that the Catholic Church needs to extricate itself from the world that rejected Christ, and thoroughly overhaul itself, and purge itself of various cancers, and fully devote itself to reformation and transformation. Today, more than anything, the Church needs empathy and compassion.


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