The Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) elected its president on November 11, 2022. The new leader of the Catholic Church in this country of 1.4 billion people has his work cut out for him. On the day of his election, the Supreme Court of New Delhi ruled out Christians and Muslims from certain aid reserved for the poorest, not to mention other issues that undermine or divide the Catholic minority.
The choice of the Indian prelates fell on Msgr. Andrews Thazhath, Archbishop of Thrissur, a diocese of the Syro-Malabar rite. Recently, the prelate had been appointed apostolic administrator of the archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, the scene of a heated conflict over the unified liturgy.
A fairly natural choice, given the expertise of Msgr. Thazhath in the canon law of the Eastern Churches, but also – and above all – because it is customary for the various Catholic rites present on Indian soil to alternate in the exercise of the presidency of the CBCI.
As a welcome gift, on the very day of his election, the New Delhi Supreme Court sent a negative signal to the Christian minority, which represents less than 2% of the total population: the Supreme Court confirmed a government decision judged deeply unjust.
Last October, in fact, the Ministry of Justice and Social Advancement proposed “positive discrimination” in favor of members of the poorest castes, or Dalits, allowing them to access a quota of jobs in the work world, provided they adhere to one of the so-called “Indian” religions.
For the executive, reinforced by the judgment of the Supreme Court, a difference in treatment is legitimate between Dalits who practice Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism on the one hand, and Christianity and Islam on the other, on the pretext that these last two would not be “Indian religions, but foreign contributions which led to the creation of Christian and Muslim populations living in India.”
But other “hot” dossiers await the new president of the CBCI: in particular that of the anti-conversion laws which intend to prohibit the passage from Hinduism to Catholicism.
Or that of the Catholic Dalits of Tamil Nadu, who complain, sometime through violent demonstrations, of not being sufficiently represented in the local Catholic hierarchy. Strong tensions that were not enough to appease the decision of Pope Francis on August 27, to create cardinal, Msgr. Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, a high prelate from one of the lowest castes.
Not to mention the quarrel around the standardization of the Syro-Malabar rite, undertaken with the aim of correcting certain abuses of the 1960s and 1970s, and which triggered an open rebellion by part of the clergy of the eparchy, or diocese, of Ernakulam-Angamaly, the one of whom Msgr. Thazhath has just been appointed apostolic administrator.
And that is the situation in a country that has become increasingly persecutory of Catholicism, in which the new head of the Indian episcopate will have to try to solve the arduous tasks that await him.