‘Dalit Christians’ in Tamil Nadu have expressed their anger against Vatican church authorities for appointing a non-Dalit Christian as the bishop of a ‘Dalit-majority’ diocese in Salem, Tamil Nadu.
According to reports, the decision of Pope Francis to appoint Father Arulselvam Rayappan of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry and Cuddalore as the next bishop of Salem has angered ‘Dalit Christians’ in the city.
On May 31, Pope Francis had appointed 60-year-old Father Rayappan, who is currently the professor and director of the Centre for Canon Law Studies at St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute in Bengaluru, as the new bishop of Salem diocese, where ‘Dalit Christians’ are in the majority.
For decades, ‘Dalit Christians’ have been demanding the appointment of ‘Dalit bishops’ in the vacant dioceses of Tamil Nadu as there is only one bishop from the Dalit community in the city, where the majority of Christians are ‘Dalit Christians’. ‘Dalit Christian’ is referred to as those who have left Hinduism to convert to Christianity in the past and are still categorised as Dalits in Hinduism.
Disappointed with the appointment, Father Z Devasagaya Raj, the former Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), has said that people are disappointed by the appointment of a non-Dalit bishop for the Salem Diocese as they were demanding the appointment of a Dalit to the post.
‘Dalit Christians’ accuse Vatican Church of promoting nepotism
Accusing the Vatican of nepotism in the current appointment, Mathew, the convener of Tamil Nadu’s All Dalit Christian Movements Coalition, said, “It looks like some kind of nepotism is going on because the newly appointed bishop of Salem is the cousin of Bishop Peter Abir Antonysamy of Sultanpet, who is also the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry and Cuddalore. They both belong to the same caste, parish, and village. It reminds us of the medieval Church. Are we going forward or backward?”
Another ‘Dalit Christian’ activist, M Mary John, head of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement, stated that the movement demanding ‘Dalit bishops’ in the state for the last three decades has received a setback by the latest appointment to the diocese.
Expressing his disappointment with the latest appointment, John said, “We have full proof of writing letters to the nuncio and other bishops urging them to appoint a Dalit bishop whenever a post is vacant, but unfortunately it was not even considered. It is very surprising and dejecting that after hearing and promising to grant our request, the higher authorities did not even take note of it.”
The community has long claimed to be victims of casteism.