Dalit protest follows the appointment of the new archbishop of Pondicherry and Cuddalore
by Nirmala Carvalho

Pope Francis did not take into account Dalit demands for a Dalit prelate when he decided to appoint Bishop Francis Kalist of Meerut (Uttar Pradesh) to the archbishop’s see in Tamil Nadu, a state where Dalits are the majority of the local Catholic community. The main Dalit association now threatens to appeal to the Indian government. Apostolic Nuncio Girelli wrote to the group a month ago saying the choice would not be “based on ethnicity, caste, language or social status.”

Pondicherry (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis appointed Bishop Francis Kalist of Meerut as the new archbishop of Pondicherry and Cuddalore, in the eponymous ecclesiastic province (Tamil Nadu), which has been the scene of a major controversy as some local lay Catholic associations urged the pontiff to name a Dalit to the post.

In a state where Dalits represent the vast majority of the population, this demand led to high-profile protests based on claims that Dalit priests are discriminated and excluded from episcopal appointments. Currently, only one out of 18 dioceses in Tamil Nadu has a Dalit bishop.

With the appointment of Mgr Kalist, a non-Dalit, as archbishop of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, Pope Francis has not met the demand of these groups, even though he opted to break with the status quo.

While the 64-year-old was born in Reethapuram, a town in Tamil Nadu, he became a priest in the Diocese of Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, where he has served as bishop since 2008.

This is the first time in decades that a bishop from a northern diocese has been moved to an episcopal see in the south of the country. However, this solution has not mollified Dalit lay associations who have already restarted their protests.

The Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM), which met Apostolic Nuncio to India Leopoldo Girelli just a few weeks ago, held a protest yesterday and hoisted a black flag outside the church of Our Lady of Fatima in Vrithachalam.

“If this appointment of the non-Dalit archbishop Francis Kalist in Pondicherry-Cuddalore is not revoked to give way to the appointment of a Dalit archbishop there, then we will be forced to raise with the Indian Government the issue of casteism, practice of Untouchability and discrimination against Dalit Christians in appointments of bishops and prelates,” reads a statement signed by DCLM president M. Mary John.

“We will also protest in public to appeal to Pope Francis to stop appointing bishops in India till the local hierarchy takes steps to appoint Dalit archbishops and bishops in adequate numbers,” it added.

In a statement the nunciature noted: “Archbishop Girelli has replied that there is no discrimination in the selection of episcopal candidates and in the appointment of new bishops.

It explained that, “The responsibility of the Apostolic Nuncio is only to verify the priestly integrity of the candidates in order to establish their suitability for the office of Bishop, making no distinction based on ethnicity, caste, language or social status.”

What is more, “The Apostolic Nuncio also 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”.

Finally, “Caste with its consequent effects of discrimination and ‘caste mentality’ has no place in Christianity.”