02/14/2020, 14.50
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Bishops begin plenary assembly discussing dialogue, harmony, abuse and abortion

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India is meeting in Bengaluru on 13-19 February. This year marks the 75th anniversary of its foundation. Dialogue is needed to reach an agreement on citizenship legislation. With respect to the love jihad, everyone has the right to choose their partner. Other issues are abortion and the rape case involving Bishop Franco Mulakkal.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The 34th plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) opened yesterday until 19 February at the St John's National Academy for Medical Sciences in Bengaluru (Bangalore).

Titled ‘Dialogue: The Path to Truth and Charity,’ the meeting will focus on a number of important issues, like supporting a culture of dialogue as "the only way forward for social harmony,” speaking out on the issue of abortion and expecting justice and the truth in the case of the bishop accused of rape.

The meeting, which was presented at a press conference on Wednesday, has brought to the capital of Karnataka about 190 bishops, representing the 174 dioceses of the Indian Catholic Church, and dozens of nuns.

The plenary assembly began with a solemn Mass led by Mgr Giambattista Diquattro, apostolic nuncio, co-celebrated by CBCI president Card Oswald Gracias, Major Archbishop Card George Alencherry of the Syro-Malabar Church, Major Archbishop Card Baselios Cleemis of the Syro-Malankara Church, as well as scores of bishops and members of the CBCI.

This year the CBCI celebrates 75 years since its foundation. The nuncio read a message of good wishes sent by Pope Francis to the Indian Church. Later in the opening ceremony Archbishop Peter Machado of Bengaluru wished those present a fruitful work.

Noting that the host diocese dedicated 2020 to the poor, the CBCI press release read: “our primary commitment is to follow the footsteps of Lord Jesus Christ who reached out God’s mercy and compassion, love and care to the needy and the poor.”

Yesterday, participants began discussing the main issues facing the Indian Church. In his address, Card Gracias stressed the importance of the culture of encounter “that inspire us to continue to build bridges, first by understanding the other person and then walking along with him/her, irrespective of his caste, creed, [and] colour.”

For this reason, as evinced in recent weeks, the Church says the “federal government should hold dialogue with those opposing the controversial Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and come to an arrangement on finding a way forward with justice, equity and fairness.” The CAA discriminates against Muslim asylum seekers who come to India from some of India’s neighbours.

The so-called Love jihad, the alleged practice of inciting young women to convert them to Islam, was another issue discussed. The Syro-Malabar Synod recently expressed concern over this matter, despite the fact that it is exploited by India’s nationalist right.

For CBCI vice president and interim Secretary General Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathio, people have the right to choose their partners and faith and forcing them to do so is wrong.

Abortion was another issue addressed, made that more relevant by the federal government’s decision to allow termination up to 24 weeks. “The Church is totally against abortion,” thundered Card Gracias. “We certainly oppose the recent Cabinet decision” and “cannot remain silent”.

With respect to the case of Bishop Franco Mulakkal who is accused of rape by a nun,  Bishop Ignathios said that the bishop has been relieved of his duties and replaced by another bishop. “We want the police investigations to be completed and are awaiting the decisions of the court,” he said.

For his part, Cardinal Gracias noted that the Church “did consider instituting its own internal inquiry,” but decided against it since the police investigation and court case were still in progress.

“We want the truth to emerge and justice done for both the victim as well as the accused,” he said pointing out that the “Church is neutral on the issue. It hates sin but loves the sinner.’’

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)

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