In the initial part of this phased response, I had suggested that the Thomas-Faleiro argument represented both an opening up and a closure. The argument operates to prise open domains, currently under the traditional leadership of the Catholic communities, to the State. In this concluding portion of the response, I would like to suggest that the opening up is especially dangerous for the simultaneous closures that such a move would result in.
Allowing us to see this closure as a movement akin to suffocation, we should not forget that the suggestion for a State law regulating Church properties first emerged in the distinctly hostile (towards religious minorities) State of
The initial attempts in these states now seem to have led to a nation-wide attempt to regulate the management of Church assets. This move is dangerous for a number of reasons. First, it repeats the primary mistake of the Indian polity, which is to see people as comprising essentially of monolithic religious groups, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians. Nothing could be further from the truth, since these communities are fractured by class, caste, language and many other factors. In the case of the Catholics, for sure there is no such thing as a uniform Indian Catholic. In
There is without doubt a need for greater transparency and accountability in the management of Church properties. I also agree that this management must be in conformance with Constitutional principles. The issue on which I differ however is that of the means of implementing this agenda. It is precisely because of its colonial heritage that
Religion is not merely a disciplining of the soul, but a disciplining of material practices as well. The Bishop exerts therefore a disciplining control over these Fabricas and their material transactions. To manage these affairs, the Catholic diocese in
As should be obvious by now, a realization of the Thomas-Faleiro formula would ensure a closure at all of the levels above, laying the foundation for greater communalism, encourage conservative leadership, and smooth over the nuances of local history and in this process close the plural legal spaces that exist at the Catholic grass-roots, allowing for vesting of absolute power in the State. Absolute power as we know, corrupts absolutely.
Rather than this route therefore, what we require now is, in the presence of the Code, located within a venerable body of Canon law; the engineering of a grass-roots constitutionalism that will allow members of the parish to demand and realise greater accountability. Grass-roots constitutionalism being the fomenting and realization of Constitutional values within grassroots institutions. In short, while we need a reform of the management of Church properties, we should be clear that it is one that strengthens the laity, not the hierarchy and the State at the expense of laity. To pose again the question asked at the presentation of the Thomas-Faleiro argument, whose property are we saving, and from whom?
There are many of us in
Thomas and Faleiro would do better to engineer their movement toward a strengthening of, rather than the closure of proto-democratic decentralized spaces that they are attempting. Their actions are in fact the result of out-dated legal understandings of society, designed further the imperial interests of the Indian State (and its beneficiary class) at the risk of doing great damage to the health of the Constitutional experiment that is our Republic. No, the Thomas-Faleiro proposals as they stand are not in the best interest of the average lay Catholic and should be opposed by any sensible mind, Catholic or otherwise.
(Published in the Herald, Opinionated, 4 Sept 2009)