Church forms tribunal against Kerala priest who flagged ‘moral decay’

  sophia sophia   6445   07 Oct, 2023 

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The action against Fr Aji Puthiyaparambil has drawn criticism at a time when the Church had been reluctant to launch similar proceedings against priests involved in sexual and financial scandals in recent years. IN AN unprecedented move, the Catholic Church in Kerala has formed an ecclesiastical tribunal to initiate proceedings for indiscipline and disobedience against a priest who opted to keep away from parish duty citing moral decay in the Church but wanted to continue priesthood. The tribunal was formed at the Catholic diocese of Thamarassery by Bishop Remigiose Inchananiyil against Fr Thomas alias Aji Puthiyaparambil, 46, who has been a priest for the past 20 years. The tribunal comprises five priests, four of them belonging to the diocese. Fr Puthiyaparambil has been asked to be present before the tribunal when summoned. The constitution of the intra-church trial proceedings against Fr Puthiyaparambil, as per the canon law, has drawn criticism from various quarters at a time when the Church has been accused of being reluctant to launch such proceedings against priests allegedly involved in sexual and financial scandals in recent years. What provoked the bishop was Fr Puthiyaparambil’s decision to keep away from assuming charge as a parish priest. In May this year, at the time of the annual transfer of priests, Fr Puthiyaparambil had refused to assume charge as parish priest at St Joseph’s Church, Nooramthodu in Thamarassery diocese. For the past three years, he had been a priest at a Catholic parish at Mukkom. He had also posted about his decision on social media, irking Bishop Inchananiyil. Fr Puthiyaparambil had then pointed towards “moral degeneration” in the Church, alleged financial scandals involving higher-ups in the Church, “unholy’’ nexus between bishops and political leaders, and the dispute in Ernakulam archdiocese over liturgy among the reasons to keep away from diocesan ministry. He warned that if corrective measures were not taken, the Kerala Church would face the fate of its counterpart in Europe. The bishop suspended the priest in July and barred him from public offering of the Mass. He was asked to stay at a home for retired priests at the diocese. On September 20, the suspension was revoked, leading to the formation of the tribunal the next day. Fr Puthiyaparambil then moved to a church premises under the arch-diocese of Ernakulam to stay with his well-wishers from the clergy. In a circular announcing the proceedings, the bishop said the priest “had incited sedition and hatred towards the hierarchy, provoking the faithful to disobedience through your public speeches and messages on social media, causing scandal and violating the discipline”. The order regarding the formation of the tribunal said the tribunal would decide on penal sanctions to be taken to repair the damage and scandal caused by the priest’s acts of disobedience and anti-ecclesiastical activities, violating the norms of the Church. Reacting to the formation of the tribunal, Fr Puthiyaparambil said, “I am being tried for questioning the moral degeneration in the Church. Even if the Church defrocks me, I will continue to speak against the decay in the Church. My intention is not to hurt the Church, but to heal wounds. In such a scenario, I would have to speak about the degeneration and erosion of values in the Church.” He said as per the canon law, the Church can form such tribunals. “But this is really barbaric in this modern time. I haven’t heard about the formation of such a court for the trial of priests in Kerala when they were involved in scandals. The Church has become an object of ridicule by the formation of the religious court against me. I have not committed any crime, but only argued for checking moral decay in the Church and bringing more transparency in administration,” he said. The priest said there is an emerging scenario in the Church, where seeds of hatred towards other religions are being sown. There are a lot of such issues in which the Church has deviated from the essence of Christianity. “We have to discuss gender equality in the Church and the lack of dialogue at various levels. I have spoken against the evil tendencies in the Church, but never singled out anyone. I will continue my mission. Even in Thamarassery diocese, I have support from a section of priests, but they now opt to remain silent due to various reasons,” he said. Syro-Malabar Church spokesperson Fr Antony Vadakkekara said there was nothing unusual in the formation of the tribunal. “This is as per the Church laws and proceedings. He has shown disobedience to the Church by refusing to take charge at a parish assigned to him. Hence, disciplinary action becomes inevitable like in any institution or establishment. The tribunal is meant to hear him and help him,” he said.

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