Last week, Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao had said that the Roman Catholic Church will guide its followers to vote for genuine candidates in Goa, for the upcoming state elections:
We do issue guidelines to our faithful on how to exercise their franchise and thus fulfil one of their sacred civic duties. These guidelines are read out in our churches, but they never mention the name of any candidate or any political party. The people are sovereign, they decide.
While the Archbishop said that neither candidates nor parties would be named, it appears that his subordinates haven’t got the message. Local Goan media reported just a few days back that Father Conceicao from the Taleigao church urged devotees to vote for husband-wife duo Babush and Jennifer Monserrate, both sitting MLAs and also aspirants for the upcoming elections. He was caught on camera appealing to the people who had come for the annual Christmas mass:
In the video, Father Conceicao made no bones while stating that the duo have helped the church and Padre-folk at large, and hence the faithful must vote for them. He asked the people who had come for the Christmas mass, to vote for, whom he called “our people”, and give them a Christmas present in February, when the elections are expected to be held. He named them explicitly, in complete contrast to the Archbishop’s statement, and asked for a “thumping majority” for them. He later tried to retract, but the video is clear.
While the church may claim to guide voters in the “right” direction, it is important to note the antecedents of the candidates endorsed by the Padre. Babush Monseratte is a goon-turned-politician, known for real estate related corruption, with very grave offences registered against him such as causing hurt by dangerous weapons, rioting with deadly weapons, and most recently, being accused of rape by a minor girl. His son too had been earlier booked for statutory rape of a minor. His wife, while less notorious is a non-performing MLA. Babush was expelled by the Congress in 2015, while his wife is still with the Congress. When a priest openly endorses such candidates, it brings into question the morals and ethics of the priest himself.
The recent Supreme Court judgement on religion and elections makes matters worse for the Padre. The Supreme Court ruled that seeking votes in the name of religion, caste, race, community or language by a candidate, his agent or anyone with his consent would be a corrupt electoral practice which would render the person open to disqualification.
Further, it also stated that the above would apply even if an appeal is made by any religious leader to his community to vote for a candidate, if it is established that such an appeal was made with the consent of the candidate. The above case squarely falls under this clause. It could be difficult to prove that the appeal was made with the consent of the candidate, but given the circumstances, it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to guess what must have really transpired.
It remains to be seen how the law will be enforced, if at all someone takes the Padre to task, since the sermon came before the Supreme Court’s judgement. It is an open secret in Goa that the Church backs and advocates voting for candidates of their choice, but this might be the first time when a priest was caught on camera, explicitly issuing an appeal. As the days to the election in Goa near, one can expect more such incidents to spring up.