Situation of Catholicism in India
1. Nagerkoil has the densest population of Catholics in Southern India, excluding certain areas of Kerala. The Catholic population is estimated to be 36%. St. Francis-Xavier himself converted them. They are much more devout than Catholics of other regions, and have a very traditional mindset. Their old churches were built by the people ages ago, and a committee of elected leaders traditionally administered all the temporal concerns of the parish.
2. The clergy of this Catholic bastion are the absolute worst in India. Pride, arrogance, unchastity and greed, are their most commonly noted virtues. With vigor they imposed Modernist teaching and practices upon a most unwilling people.
3. The most important work of the Bishop of this region is to sweep away the administrative committees of lay people, and impose the “parish council” of his own construction. Events of the past ten years have proven that the main purpose of this substitution is to consolidate all the wealth and fund-raising machinery in the hands of the Bishop. One by one, he has coerced the parishes into accepting it. Many cruel methods were used to accomplish this. One of the most effective was interdict… removing the parish priest, and refusing the sacraments, especially Marriage, Confirmation and Mass. Those communities, which persisted, were either bribed into submission, or crushed with the help of the police.
4. Many parishes were in an uproar over communion in the hand, women in the sanctuary, and of course the public crimes of the priests.
Having “set the stage”, I can speak about the events of this summer in Ramanpudur, Holy Family Parish.
13 June, Sunday. The representatives of Holy Family Parish come to the SSPX priory, and after a cordial meeting, go away, seeming pleased.
19 July, Monday. The representatives of St. Lourdes Church, Punnianagar (adjacent to Holy Family and in league with them) come and explicitly ask us to take over the spiritual ministry of their church, because the Bishop has just refused to take care of them until they submit to his decree about the parish council. The promised date of the takeover is Wednesday, 21 July.
21 July, Wednesday. The people are rounded up by the police and browbeaten for four hours to make an agreement with the Bishop, “or ELSE!”
24 July, Saturday. The committee from Punnainagar comes and shows the letter they gave to the Bishop ending all dealings with him, and accepting the SSPX priests as their pastors. A surprise Mass was scheduled for 4 AM the following morning, a Sunday. Before they arrive at their homes, they are betrayed: the President had given the keys to the police, who then locked the church and gave the keys to the Bishop. It’s a hopeless situation.
25 July, Sunday. Father Pancras goes to Punnainagar to celebrate the Mass: Surprise! The Church is locked and the police are guarding it. He then goes to Asaripalam for the normal Mass at our SSPX chapel. After the Asperges, a fine car with well-dressed people pulls up and unloads. These representatives of Holy Family Church attend the Mass piously, and afterwards they request the SSPX to send a priest to their Church for morning Mass on Monday.
26 July, Monday. 9AM morning Mass. The people prepare a great celebration at a shrine of St. James, where Fr. Blute goes and celebrates a Sung Mass with the well-coordinated altar service of Hostel Boys, now experts in the liturgy. The crowd of 300 is quite edified. They also sing very well, remembering the Kyriale from their youth.
27 July, Tuesday. SSPX is now welcomed and housed in the Rectory of Holy Family parish. The first of several meetings takes place between District officers and the Bishop’s representatives and the representatives of Holy Family, to try to work out a solution. The defense: the Bishop definitively abandoned us, so we are free to choose the SSPX fathers as our pastors. Outside, 300 women pray the Rosary. At the church, we make a Novena to St. Anthony.
28 July, Wednesday. The people of Punnainagar march on the local office of justice, demanding the keys to their church.
29 July, Thursday. Punnainagar is beginning to boil, and the men are contemplating an uprising. They are calmed by the people of Ramanpudur, with whom they have forged an unbreakable alliance to bring the Latin Mass to their churches. Accusations and warnings appear in all the newspapers.
30 July, Friday. A traditional friend and politico approaches the Magistrate, the highest official in the district, requesting support for the people. His answer: “There are 42 parishes in exactly the same state as Holy Family, and if I get involved, I’ll not have time for any other work.”
1 August, Sunday of the Maccabees. A solemn high mass is scheduled for the first time in Holy Family Church in forty years. Opposition by the Bishop is rumored. Police arrive 4:30 AM. Our priests, Frs. Pancras & Michael, guard the altar until time for the Solemn Mass. The supporters of the Bishop arrive at the gate, a paltry ill-meaning crowd of about 35 people. 500 people meet them at the gate, blocking their entry. All remain to listen to Fr. Blute’s sermon. Dismayed, they go home. After a glorious Mass, the people gather around the Church for a feast, prepared compliments of two wealthy businessmen to joyfully celebrate the day’s events.
4 August Wednesday. Bishop Leon Dharmaraj calls all the diocesan employees to his house and his Vicars cajole and threaten them, forcing them all to sign a blank paper, and urging them to go the following day to the Magistrate to protest, and to bring 15 family members. The teachers of the diocesan schools go home late, shaken and anxious. Holy Family Parish complains to the Department of Education at this abuse of authority. The Hindus who watch and listen with awe to the Requiem Procession and Mass that morning refute vicious rumors about schism, etc. “Even if these priests were great sinners, I am convinced by their prayers they are holy men.”
5 August Thursday. A fateful day, a judgment is to be made by the District official, the “RDO”. The committee goes to argue their case, and our 400 pious faithful, men and women, go to kneel outside and pray the Rosary. The teachers union provides 40 partisans of the Bishop. The official orders the crowd dispersed: the Holy Family people immediately approach and ask for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and adore for 5 hours, with uninterrupted prayers and songs. After the delegates arrive, there is a loud public meeting with speeches galore in favor of unity, the Latin Mass and the SSPX. Anyone who inadvertently said, “Our parish priest came and.” was shouted down by cries of, “Not our parish priest– FORMER parish priest!!” Likewise, the blunder, “Our bishop has….” was drowned by, “NOT OURS!” The District officers want a compromise. The parish representatives say, “Not without a meeting of the whole parish”. “Hold it tomorrow” comes the reply. “We can’t. People can only come on Sunday”. So the meeting to determine the will of the people is postponed until Sunday. However, the Bishop’s supporters and the Government people urge, “Can’t you stop that Mass of yours?” “Oh, no, we need our daily Mass”. “Please, if you would just STOP THAT MASS!” (The devil is obviously tormented by this blazing light in the middle of his dark kingdom.)
The same day: In the morning, the former parish priest, Fr. Ladislaus, creeps into the Rectory, and surprises Fr. Blute and Fr. Pancras at breakfast. He introduces himself as Fr. Benjamin. He is offered a seat, and soon he says, “Actually, I’m the parish priest here”. So we cordially speak about why we are here, and why we were not going to go, and how he had best go and speak to the Committee, if he must. He just smirks at us. A security guard come and ignominiously walks him to the gate. Immediately he goes with his friends to the Police station and files a complaint of attempted murder: by Fr. Blute, Pancras, and three absent committee members. If this is the quality of the clergy in Ramanpudur, I, for one, feel not just justified in coming to their aid, but also positively bound by duty.
6 August, Friday. Another 5 hour adoration. An illegal “stay-order” is filed in court forbidding the SSPX Fathers from entering the church.
8 August, Sunday. The parish meeting, after some debate, arrives at a plan: to offer some stern conditions for the Bishop to adhere to, if he wants control of Holy Family: Among the conditions: The priest must wear a cassock… do not allow any women in his priory, nor in the sanctuary. No communion in the hand, no women lectors, and above all, no more talk about “Parish Councils”, period. As they expect, the Bishop refuses to sign.
10 August, Tuesday. Tension builds all day. Morning Mass without any disturbance. Evening devotions in honor of St. Anthony are scheduled. At 5:15 PM, vans of people begin arriving and the crowd attempts to enter the church compound. The church bell begins to peal. Crowds of parishioners block the gates. Police provide protection. The crowd grows, on both sides. Hired vans begin arriving from the fisher villages. A crowd of priests, maybe 100, insists on being allowed into the church to offer the Mass. (“Funny”, one man said: “first they refused us the Mass, now they are breaking down the walls and begging us to let them say Mass for us”) The crowd replies, “We have our own priests, thank you! You can go home!” A statue of St. Anthony is brought, and the devotion commences. Then, on the parish side, continuous rosaries, hymns, and prayers. A delegation of priests and sisters go to the official’s office. In his office, Fr. Ladislaus Benjamin protests vehemently, pounding the desk of the august official, and kicking his furniture. Outraged police give him a beating and chuck him out. At the church, the faithful cook a common vat of rice for all to sustain them in their siege. At 10:30 PM, vanloads begin arriving in force.
The priests lie down and block the road. In the allied parishes of Punnainagar (St. Lourdes), Thalaivaipuram, Mel Ramanpudur and others, the bells ring, and call for reinforcements. Crowds of supporters enter by the back way, swelling the parish side to 7,000 people. A general call goes out to all police stations, and vans of police merge with vans of hired Bishop’s men converging on Ramanpudur. Seeing this, the police begin stopping the vans, and let the air out of their tires. Finally, some 1,500 police are in place, preventing the crowd outside from entering the church compound by force. It becomes apparent that the 100 priests are not actually priests, but fishermen dressed in borrowed cassocks. At 2 AM the police charge the crowd with night sticks and disperse them. Without doubt, these are the most dangerous public disturbances in recent history, and it is completely blacked-out by the media: no newspapers, no TV, no radio, no magazine articles. Who arranged that?
Three families, years ago, had left Holy Family Parish to join the Pentecostals. After they saw the True Mass ONCE, they all returned to the Catholic Church. A young man testifies, “With the Tamil Mass, I would only go on Sunday. But since seeing the holiness of this Mass, I rise at 5: 30 am, so I will not miss it.” A man was vociferously denouncing the SSPX priests. Out of curiosity, his wife and daughters attended Sunday Mass. Upon their return, they said, “We don’t know how to answer what you say about these priests, but you must see the Mass.” After attending once, he ceased his denunciations.
August 16. The critical juncture is over. The Bishop bought a judgment from the High Court, in Madras, and obtained rights over the keys of the church. He comes with the police and enters. All the people, including us, flee. With great solemnity, the Bishop celebrates Mass in the very place hallowed by the Tridentine Mass days before: to an empty church. There are 40 local people, and about the same brought by the Bishop in a bus. The normal crowd is 3000!! The people are themselves asking to set up a tent on borrowed land, and have the Latin Mass within 2 weeks. The people of Punnainagar, especially, are bracing for the next onslaught, because they have also rejected the government of the Bishop Leon Dharmaraj (means “Lion King of Virtue” the old women laugh and say Leon Adarmaraj—”Lion king of vice”). Recall that St. Peter says “your adversary the Devil as a roaring Lion goes about seeking whom he may devour.”) So keep praying for us. There is a harvest to be gathered for tradition, and whether it yields 40, 60, or 100 fold depends on our prayers.
It seems as things stand the bishop has wrested control of the church property from the local people, obtaining a judgment in his favor from the local judiciary. It seems that a Trust composed of the local people has always claimed ownership of the property. So the local leaders and the trustees have gone to the town of Madurai to appeal to a higher court to get back the church and associated property. The courts in India are absolutely swamped with property cases and who knows how long – months or years – this appeal will take?
Fr Blute is back at the priory in Palayamkottai drawing up long-term plans for the area. He is optimistic that whatever happens, a new center for Tradition will arise in this area evangelized by St Francis Xavier. At the southern tip of India, it is a fertile stretch of land, full of palm groves, served by both the Northeast and Southwest Monsoons. The people are generally unaware of the crisis in the Church, thinking their woes with the bishop to be a localized affair. Fr Blute says that the Catholic population of the area is very devout in the practice of the Faith.
There was no Traditional Latin Mass celebrated on Assumption Day. The New Mass. said by the local bishop at the Holy Family Church was a flop. Since the local leaders were out of town at Madurai, the people stood firm. Arrangements are being made to celebrate Mass wherever possible in the area, on Sunday 22 August.
August 30, Monday. It seems that the SSPX has settled for a Mass center in the Nagercoil area, now that the bishop has complete control over the church in Ramanpudur. A house with a large walled-in compound has been rented. The altar will be set on the veranda and the faithful will be in the garden on mats. Some hundreds of people can thus be accommodated. Fr. Pancras is already residing in this house that is within easy distance from Ramanpudur and the two neighboring parishes.
We asked Fr Blute a last question:
– How long have you been in India?
– About seven-and-a-half years.
I had already been two-and-a-half years in the Philippines, under Fr. Morgan, when Bishop Fellay, in a roundabout way, asked me how I would feel about a temporary assignment in India. My original 3 months visa was extended six months more, followed by another one year visa, etc, etc, and right now I have a ten-year visa, which is really remarkable. It has been quite a long temporary stay! But I have no regrets, none at all! My feeling is that Jesus Christ has sent me here, by the will of my superiors. I mean, we’re like an army, and if the small foot soldiers don’t hold the part of the line assigned to them, we’ve no hope of victory.