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Dissenting voice must be heard. Bishops must speak Up. Laity and Clergy demand.

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

Photo Credit/ Public domain. Democracy at stake, things are not in order: 4 senior supreme court judges in India express their dissenting voice

Petter D'souza, Freelance journalist, Sydney, Australia.

Dissenting voice must be heard. Bishops must speak Up

The XXIX Synod of the Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church has just concluded. Dissenting voices were not included in the process of deliberation on matters of Liturgy. With the brute majority of ultra-conservatives in the Synod, The views of the progressive and reformist bishops, priests and faithful have been bulldozed and signals are given that the most vibrant Church among the Eastern Churches will be taken back to the middle-ages. But in the interest of unity in the Church and for the future of the Church it is necessary that the minority Bishops in the Synod should come out and explain their views in a transparent manner to the faithful. This is the right thing to do according to the Apostolic tradition of the Church and canons of justice.

Apostolic Tradition

The first major difference of opinion in the early Church was surrounding the issue of circumcision. Chapter 15 of the Acts of Apostles gives a detailed account of the deliberations in the Jerusalem Council and how the decision against circumcision was reached. But it is interesting to note that Paul who attended the Council decided to give his own account of the deliberations in the Letter to the Galatians (Ch.2). “This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” (Gal. 2: 4-5). What is more interesting is that he goes on to discuss a meeting he had with Peter about the controversy. It may be worth quoting what the Apostle had to say about the encounter (Gal 2: 11-21):

“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

The minority Bishops in the Synod who advocated a different opinion should draw strength from this apostolic tradition and come out publicly about the deliberations and their views. There will be infiltrators who want to take away the freedom that Jesus gave. As true successors of the Apostles it is your duty to persevere the truth of the gospel.

It is in the interest of Justice and Truth, bishops must speak out their dissenting voice

Bringing out the differences in public is not against the values of institutional discipline and not at all against the interests of justice. On the other hand, it will be an example of institutional discipline and promote interests of justice.

One may see examples of the same in the secular world. Judiciary is considered as the best example of hierarchy and institutional discipline. In common law countries, a two-judge bench is bound to follow a judgment given by a five-judge bench. But what makes this hierarchy and discipline possible is the scope for dissent in the system. A judge who does not agree with the majority is free to express his dissent through a separate opinion.

Two arguments in support of dissenting opinions in the judiciary may be relevant here. The first justification argues that dissent leads to development of law. ‘Today’s dissent is tomorrow’s law’.

There are many examples for this in India’s legal history. In 1950, in the very first year of the new Constitution, the Supreme Court rejected a habeas corpus petition filed by Communist leader A.K. Gopalan who was under preventive detention. The majority took a restrictive view of personal liberty. The dissenting opinion by Justice Fazal Ali became the law of the land in 1977 in the famous case of Maneka Gandhi. The courageous dissent by Justice Khanna during the emergency was formally incorporated into the Constitution by an amendment in 1978. One can go on citing examples after examples.

The next argument is based on the notion of democracy and synodality. Periodical elections is not the only feature of a democracy. It is also about the scope for different ideas to exist. It may be the majority idea that may culminate in decisions in a democracy. But it does not mean that the ideas of the minority lack legitimacy or logic. A dissenting opinion thus makes the minority to feel that their opinions are also valid and legitimate. They feel that if they could convince some more judges or if some more like-minded judges were there on the Bench the decision would have been in their favour. Thus, they do not feel to be outside the system, but a part of it. It may be worthwhile to remember here that the dissenting opinions of Justice Byron White and Justice William Rehnquist in Roe v. Wade make the arguments of pro-life advocates legitimate and makes them part of the system. This point is very important as the Pope in his letter to the bishops emphasises ‘walking together’ with God’s people. Thus, it becomes imperative for the bishops to come out in public and express their views.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant !

The clergy and the faithful who support versus populum Mass has been subjected to the worst forms of attack including cyber bullying and character assassination. Groups that hysterically support the Major Archbishop are behind these planned and coordinated attacks. The patience with which these clergy face these criticisms is a model for the entire Catholic Church. They have been called an infection that has afflicted the church. It is an age-old wisdom that sunlight is the best disinfectant. So, it will be in the interest of the ultraconservatives too that there is transparency.

Synodality matters most

The words of Pope Francis are pertinent to ponder over. Theological commission writes …”The Pope loves to repeat what is found in Lumen gentium 12, that is, that the People of God cannot err in credendo (in matters of belief): “This means that it [the People of God] does not err in faith, even though it may not find words to explain that faith…. God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God. The presence of the Spirit gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively, even when they lack the wherewithal to give them precise expression” (Evangelii gaudium, 119). In fact, the sensus fidei is the hermeneutical key to understand the theology of synodality adopted by Pope Francis.

Not against Synodal Secrecy

A public announcement of the dissent by the minority bishops is not against Synodal Secrecy. There have been at least two instances in the past that poster boys of ultra-conservatism have disclosed what was going on in the Synod. The minority bishops should make public their views for the greater good of the Church.

The minority Bishops should draw inspiration from the landmark press conference of four senior judges of the Indian Supreme Court on 12 January 2018. They should hold a Press Conference and express their views immediately after the conclusion of the Synod.

The ultra conservatives may paint a picture that the faithful is not interested in matters relating to liturgy and are passive spectators of what is happening in the Church. It is far from the truth. As Michael Dougherty wrote in a recent article in New York Times, “revising all the vocal and physical aspects of a ceremony and changing the rationale for it constitutes a true change of religion. Only overconfident Catholic bishops could imagine otherwise.” The faithful are outraged at the way in which this vibrant Church has been taken back to the dark ages of medieval barbarity by the current Major Archbishop and his brethren bishops. They are shocked at the way in which priests and bishops who speak against the corruption are targeted. They are exasperated at the attempts by the supporters of the Major Archbishop to turn this Church into a medieval fundamentalists group. No good is to come from the majority of the ultra-conservative bishops in the Synod. The hope and future of the Church is on dissenting voices you dare to express . You are lucky in a way that history has presented a unique opportunity to stand up for Christian teachings. Be courageous and speak up for the greater glory and future of the Church.

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