(RE: UA/16/2002 – Support Fr. Pallath’s hunger strike for justice – 06 May 2002)
UPDATE (INDIA): Letter from the regional secretary in the Jesuit, AHRC’s reply and more updates
33rd DAY OF THE HUNGER STRIKE
PLEASE VISIT THE JESUIT HOUSES IN YOUR COUNTRY!
The following is a copy of a letter distributed by the Rev. Gregory Naik, SJ, regional secretary for South Asia based in Rome, to those who have expressed solidarity for Fr. Pallath. Afterwards we reproduce the reply of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
LETTER OF THE REV. NAIK.SJ
This is in response to your e-mail message to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus regarding Fr. Pallath J. Joseph of Kerala. The case of Fr. Pallath has been examined at the highest levels of the Society of Jesus and of the Church. The Congregation for Religious Institutes, to whom Fr Pallath¡¯s appeal to the Pope had been directed, decided after a thorough study of the matter that there were valid reasons for his dismissal from the Society of Jesus and that the procedure followed by the Superiors in the dismissal was in accordance with the laws of the Church and of the Society of Jesus. Reversing that decision, therefore, will not be considered; it would not do any good, neither to Fr Pallath himself nor to the Society.
We understand that Fr. Pallath had challenged his dismissal in a local civil court. Apparently the court asked him to substantiate his claims. Instead, he opted to take the matter to the streets. We regret the course of action that he has taken and its consequences both to himself and to the Church and the Society of Jesus.
Gregory Naik, SJ
Regional Secretary (South Asia)
Curia Generalizia SJ
Borgo S. Spirito 4
C.P. 6139/ 00195 Roma-Prati
AHRC REPLY OF JUNE 12, 2002
We have come across a letter you have been sending to those who press for the intervention of your superior general regarding Fr. Pallath¡¯s case in the Indian state of Kerala. Your letter is completely silent on two agreements reached between Fr. Pallath and your congregation through your representatives in Kerala in October 2000 and October 2001, subsequent to orders you mentioned in your letter. Why do you not recognize these agreements? The following quotes from a senior Jesuit and from a negotiator for the 2001 agreement will be sufficient to give the part of the story about which you are silent.
– Mediator of the October 2001 Truce Says the Agreement Was Violated ¡®Convenor Played Foul¡¯
Even to those who firmly believe that the unilateral violation of the agreement entered into between Fr. Pallath and the Jesuit authorities in October 2001 was what precipitated the present hunger strike, Fr. Joseph Pulikkathara¡¯s revelations at the venue of the relay hunger strike in front of the Medical College Hospital in Calicut was a revelation.
Fr. Pulikkathara, it may be noted, along with two other diocesan priests and Prof. John Ochanthuruth (with the last mentioned as convenor), signed as mediators in the agreement of October 2001 between Fr. Pallath and the Jesuit authorities of Kerala. To everyone¡¯s dismay, Fr. Pulikkathara revealed that the committee of mediators has never met after the signing of the agreement in October 2001. The convenor never even called for a meeting, said Fr. Pulikkathara. It may be noted that the agreement had enjoined upon the committee of mediators to discuss with the provincial of the Jesuit congregation about the monthly maintenance to be paid to Fr. Pallath from April 2001 onwards. It was also to prepare a report about the modalities to be adopted to enable Fr. Pallath to gain reentry into the Jesuit society. Pretending thus far to speak on behalf of the committee, the convenor had announced that their report about Fr. Pallath¡¯s reentry into the Jesuit society was a terse: not possible, ostensibly after the committee poured through documents and law books and the facts of the case. If Fr. Pallath¡¯s argument so far has been that this conclusion was arrived at without ever hearing him, as the agreement had warranted, it now appears that the committee itself never met or deliberated the issue. The convenor was voicing the wish of the Jesuit authorities of Kerala rather than the facts of the matter, revealed Fr. Pulikkathara.
Fr. Pulikkathara agreed that it was obvious that the question of paying maintenance was never a matter of contention at the time of signing the agreement. In fact, the Jesuit representatives present had only said that the quantum need to be fixed only after consultations with the provincial who was then unavailable. This task the committee was supposed to do. However, as it now turns out, the committee never met the Jesuit authorities even once on the matter and never presented Fr. Pallath¡¯s case to them. The convenor of the mediator¡¯s team became a willing accomplice of the Jesuit¡¯s cynical game plan after the immediate strike threat receded in order to drive Fr. Pallath to penury so that he would stop his fight.
¡°This is something I have repeatedly been airing in private to the Jesuit authorities and to the other mediators. I am now willing to reiterate this to anyone and in any fora,¡± asserted Fr. Pulikkathara.
Regarding the agreement in October 2000, we present the press statement of Fr. Joseph Kottukapilly, SJ, a well-known 68-year-old Jesuit in India.
– Fr. Kottukappilly¡¯s Press Statement
I address this press conference in the throes of agony springing from a mental conflict, the likes of which I have not experienced in the 48 years of my life as a Jesuit. I am forced to confront through this public intervention the hunger strike of Fr. P. J. Joseph with the responsibility inherent in the dignity of Catholic priesthood and my Jesuit calling. I have been obligated by Jesus Christ and the Society of Jesus to take an uncompromising stand in matters of justice.
For the last two years, my superiors have been perpetrating the most unjust forms of torture on a member of our own society. I have been, in the very same period, utilising my knowledge and expertise in the Jesuit constitution and procedures and in the canon law to see even a modicum of justice in the manner in which my society is dealing with Fr. Pallath. In Fr. Pallath¡¯s dismissal from the Society of Jesus, in physically throwing him out of Christ Hall without provisioning for his livelihood and now in forcing him into a hunger strike that is fast reaching a stage when his life may be lost forever, I see a gross violation of the principles of natural justice, of basic human rights, of the prescriptions of canon law and of the Jesuit constitution itself.
Maintaining silence in this matter any more, I believe, will be a crime against my Jesuit calling and mission. I will be discarding the principles and values of Jesuit life itself through that silence.
My stand is primarily and basically not for Fr. Pallath. It is for the sake of the Society of Jesusthe very basis of my existence. Against the touchstone of an ordinary man¡¯s sense of justice, uprightness and commitment to human rights, the testimony that we are providing in the matter of Fr. Pallath is a negation of our Jesuit calling and Christian spirit. When Fr. Pallath is denied justice, the party that fails is the Society of Jesus, more than Fr. Pallath. It is to avoid that failure of the Jesuit society that I dare raise my voice seeking justice for Fr. Pallath, prompted, I repeat, by my Jesuit calling and Christian faith.
Authorities and power structures will come and go, but the Jesuit society anchored on the ideals and spirit of Jesus Christ should remain. It is in the pursuit of this cause that I am willing to be crucified.
Not just on my behalf but on behalf of several other Jesuits who silently share my pain and anguish, I beg and plead of my Jesuit superiors: Even if nothing else, until a permanent solution is found to this issue, my Fr. Provincial should at least provision for his livelihood a monthly sum that was agreed to in the agreement signed by either parties in October 2000 and save Fr. Pallath¡¯s life.
Fr. Joseph Kottukapilly, SJ
In the face of all these denials of the reality, what else can one do but to respond to the matter in the way that Fr. Pallath has done?
Thank you for your attention to this urgent and important matter.
THE LATEST UPDATES
– Jananeethi Annual General Body Rallies in support of Fr. Pallath on the matter of Fr. J.J. Pallath S.J
It is over thirty days now, since Fr. J.J. Pallath began his indefinite fast agains thte denial of Justice and human rights from the Jesuit society which he served, glorified and loved like his mother for over 37 years. Following worsening of his condition on the recommendation of the doctors who arrested him he has been shifted by the police to the Calicut medical college, where too he is continuing his indefinite fast, even declining medication. Fr. Pallath has declared that he would continue his struggle till justice is met. On the other hand the Jesuit authorities of Kerala have given enough indication of their mindset of not following even the dictates of simple human kindness, no matter even if Fr. Pallath dies in the process. The 55 years of Fr. Pallath is a well known author, cultural activist and advocate of the Dalit and downtrodden sections. His demand is very simple: Till a final settlement of the issues springing from his unjust dismissal from the society of Jesus, he cannot be allowed to remain a vagabond priest with no means of livelihood and sacramental life.
As an undeniable human right of every person, Fr. Pallath’s demands are elementary. While his friends and supporters struggle hard to find an amicable and just solution to the problem to save his life, we are pained to note that the attitude of Jesuits, repeatedly aired to several mediators, is ¡®Let him die we are not afraid of the consequences.’ We condemn such inhuman attitude of the Jesuit authorities. We are surprised that the Jesuit society that once assumed leadership positions in the world of thought, knowledge and rationality is today unable to stand up to the deeds of a handful of stone hearted beings among them drunk on power. These namesakes of Jesus Christ, who willingly laid down his life for the sake of others, will be considered the greatest betrayers of Christian values, if they do nothing to save an innocent priest life. We urge the Jesuits who still retain their sense of Justice, human kindness and fair play to intervene and stop this violence being inflicted on their colleague. (Resolution adopted at the Annual General body meeting of Jananeethi, hel d at Thrissur on 9th June 2002)
– Justice Krishna Iyer appeals to the Bishop of Calicut (June 11, 2002)
Venerable Bishop of Calicut,
I have been receiving a few representations from responsible persons about the denial of justice to Fr. J.J.Pallath. On going through the materials sent to me I feel prima facie that justice has not been done to him and in this unhappy position I appeal to you to reconsider the case of Dr. Pallath, give him a fresh hearing and until then take him back into the Church. God is the source of natural justice and God’¡¯ men have a title to basic fair treatment. Since Fr. Pallath, due to hunger strike undertaken out of burning conviction, is in a precarious condition of health it may rob him of his very existence.
May I plead with you on bended knees to see that Fr. Pallath¡¯s life is saved, his dignity restored and his sense of justice fulfilled by appropriate timely action on the part of your Holiness.
V.R. KRISHNA IYER