Friday, December 19, 2014

Enact a ‘Church Act’

भारत में हिन्दू बंदोबस्ती अधिनियम , देवसवोम बोर्ड अधिनियम , वक्फ बोर्ड अधिनियम लागू हैं। चर्च को भी एक ऐसे ही अधिनियम की जरूरत है।
The Hindu Endovement Act, Devaswom Board Rules, Waqf Board and the Sikh Gurudwara Act have been formulated. The Church needs a similar Act.
ഹിന്ദുക്കള്‍ക്കും, മുസ്ലീമുകള്‍ക്കും, സിക്കുകാര്‍ക്കും അവരുടെ മതത്തിന്‍റെ സമൂഹസമ്പത്ത് ഭരിക്കാന്‍ നിയമമുള്ളതുപോലെ ക്രൈ സ്തവര്‍ക്കും ഒരു നിയമം വേണം

Representation by KCF on 25/10/2014
to Central Government to enact a ‘Church Act’ 
The administration of the community wealth of all religion in India, except Christians, is regulated by Acts passed either by Parliament or by the State Legislatures, Hindus have Hindu Endowment Act and various Devaswom Acts like Tirupathi-Thirumala Devasthanam Act, Guruvayur Devaswom Act, Travancore - Cochin Hindu Religious Act, Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act 1951 etc. The largest religious minority community in India, Muslim community, has ‘Wakf Act’ to administer their religious properties. One of the smallest religion in India, the Sikh religion is having the Sikh Gurudwara Act for the administration of their properties. That being the state of affairs with respect to the administration of common properties of all other religions, why so far such a law has not been enacted by the Indian Parliament for the administration of religious properties of Christian religions is the big question disturbing the minds of citizens of India who have opted the Christian faith.
            Article 26 of the Constitution lays down that every religious sect has the right to establish and maintain religious institutions and to acquire and own properties. But the same Article stipulates that the administration of religious properties must be in accordance with Law. What is meant by law in our Constitution is law enacted by either the Indian Parliament or the State Legislatures. Of course, those laws which were allowed to continue when the Constitution was passed could also be law.
            India is a secular democratic republic, and as such, no religion should be given preferential treatment over other religions. Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits any Governmental discrimination of any citizen or group of citizens on the ground of religion. It is a fact that even after sixty eight years of existence of our Constitution the Christian community in India is still not having a law enacted for the administration of the properties and institutions of the community. This can only be construed as a discrimination of the Christian community before law.
            All churches and church institutions are public trusts which belong to the people who have raised funds for their construction, maintenance and upkeep. Priests are also paid from the funds contributed by the devotees. What is disturbing is that, the absence of a law enacted by the State has resulted in appropriation of ownership of community assets of the Church to themselves by Bishops.
The argument usually put forward by those vested interests who oppose the introduction of a Christian Church properties and Institutions Act is that they have evolved their own rules and regulations to govern their properties such as the Canon Law of the Catholic Christians. This argument is baseless since the mere fact that some Christian denominations have their own internal regulations is not sufficient reasons to say that they are governed by the law as envisaged in article 26 of  the Constitutions. It may be seen that these internal regulations do not subject the administration of billions of Rupees worth of Church properties to statutory judicial review.
            As far as the Catholic Christians are concerned the so-called Canon Law enacted by the Head of the foreign State of Vatican cannot be applicable to the common properties and assest of the citizens of Catholic community in India. Canon Law created a situation in which there is unequal division between two sects of believers professing their faith in the same Jesus Christ viz. the vastmajority of ordinary faithful and the microscopic minority of the clergy.
            The Canon Law grants absolute rights to the Pope and his nominee Bishops not only in spiritual but in temporal matters also. The faithful are forced to be subservient to the authority of the Bishops in temporal matters. It infringes upon the right of liberty and dignity of the citizens of the Christian community of India as guaranteed by the Constitution. Thus the Christian believers are being treated unfairly and their right to manage their collective wealth is now being enjoyed by Bishops and his nominated group of priests, against the wishes of the vast majority of believers.
            The present system of the Church governance that vests absolute ownership and authority of the Church properties and institutions with the Bishops is without parallel in any system of governance. They are neither accountable to the state of Government nor to the people who have contributed these properties and assets. According to Canon Law it is not mandatory for Bishops to be transparent and accountable to the ordinary believers. This unbridled right to domination of Bishops harms the right to equality and liberty of citizens of the Christian community who are being harassed by the Bishops and money is being extorted even for performing holy sacraments.
            According to tradition and belief Christianity came to the shores of India (State of Kerala) in the first century itself through one of the twelve disciples of Christ, St. Thomas. Those who accepted Christianity from early centuraies were known as St. Thomas Christians. Their life was church-centered and the churches were built and maintained by the people out of their own contribution. Each Church was constructed as trust and its administration was carried on by a Parish Assembly called ‘Yogam’. There were parish assemblies for individual churches, Regional Assemblies for a group of local churches and General Assembly for whole churches. The adult laymen of the parish constituted the parish assembly. This assembly administered church properties and saw to the means for the sustenance of the priests and maintenance of the churches. The senior most priest of the church presided over the assembly. The trustee of the church for its day to day administration were elected by the parish assembly. The Bishops and the priests exercised no powers in the temporal administration of the community. This system of church administration continued till the arrival of the Portuguese in 16th centuary to establish their political hegemony on the Indian soil. They wanted to use the Christians in India as their stooges to perpetrate their colonial aspirations. With this view they tried to seize control of the Christian Churches in India by destroying the democratic administrative systems prevalent in Indian Churches and imposing the highly centralized, dictatorial and hierarchical administration of the Roman Church. Indian Christian stood up as one man against the Portuguese domination and asked them to quit India by taking an oath (Koonan Cross Oath) in the year 1653. Thus it may be seen that historically and traditionally Indian Christians had a dichotomy in religious affairs; the spiritual aspects of the church practices were looked after by the clergy and the temporal wealth was administrated by the congregation of the laity of ordinary believers. The Founding Fathers of our Constitution were thoughtful and  magnanimous to include article 29 and 30 of our Constitution to protect and preserve the cultural identity and language of the minority communities, It is automatically derived that the minority right is to be enjoyed by the community collectively. Unfortunately in the case of Christian minority the overwhelming majority called laity or ordinary believers who form 99.9% of the community have no role in the decision making process to select the cultural heritage and values to be preserved by running educational institutions and cultural establishments. In fact the minority right guaranteed under the Constitution has been usurped by the Bishops on the strength of the rules and regulations made by them in their own vested interest. As ownership of all Catholic Church properties in India are vested on the Pope, Bishops and clergy as per the so-called Canon Law made by the Pope in Vatican, the Catholic eduational institutions being church properties also belong to them. Thus only the Bishops and clergy are enjoying the minority right usurping it to themselves at the expence of the ordinary  belivers of the Church.
            Under the circumstances described above the urgent and imperative need of the hour is to enact a Christian Church Properties and Institutions Act under the Constitution of India to protect the right of the citizen in Christian Communities in administration of their common religious and cultural assets and properties based on principles of accountability, transparency and democratic values. The Kerala Law Reforms Commission headed by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer had proposed ‘Kerala Christian Church Properties and Institutions Trust Bill 2009’ which is not yet made law by passing in the Kerala Legislature Assembly. This draft bill may be taken as basis to start with. On behalf of The Kerala Catholic Federation R 617/08, we, Antony Chittattukara (State President) and V.K. Joy (General Secretary), request your good self to take necessary initiative to frame such an Act. 

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