UPDATE (INDIA): Ex-Provincial Fr. Pulikal’s damning indictment of the Kerala Jesuit superiors


Urgent Appeal Case: UP-48-2002

Dear Friends,

Following is the letter written by Fr. Pulikkal, a well-known retreat preacher, Director of the Ignatian Retreat Centre at Pariyaram and above all one of the most revered and respected of provincials in the Kerala Jesuit Province, regarding Fr. Pallath’s case. He has made public damning indictment of the Kerala Jesuit¡¯s handing of the Pallath’s issue.

For your information, we are sending you the full text of his letter.

Thank you for your attention.

Urgent Appeals Desk

Asian Human Rights Commission


IRC, Pariyaram

June 15, 2002


In mid April, Kottukappilly and I wrote a letter to the Provincial about the PJ Joseph problem. It was in view of the special consult going to be held. In it we said that the two of us are perhaps the people in the Province who know PJ¡¯s side of the problem best; that in the light of that knowledge we believed that the way the Province had handled the case was flawed in many instances; that through some suitable mechanism the Province must listen to PJ’s complaints. The Provincial’s (P) reply to us, based on communication from Rome, restricted itself to one point: PJ’s dismissal cannot be reconsidered. We had not suggested reconsideration of the dismissal. THE point of our letter was that we must LISTEN a word used thrice in the short letter. That was ignored. The Provincial informed the Province Meet of our letter and his reply. (Since he has done that, we are showing our letter to those who ask about it.)

Dissenting from an official position of the Province is not at all easy for me. And P J Joseph: from the knowledge I have about him I would rather ask him to discern if he has a vocation to priesthood and to the society rather than be his ardent supporter. Why then do I speak up for PJ and criticize the Provincial? Allow me to outline my reasons, for those who might be interested in the question.

1. When the Provincials saw that PJ’s last vows were pending for a long time, they should have attended to that urgently. Instead they went on entrusting important works to him. The message he was given over the years through such appointments and laudatory letters was that he was very much appreciated and valued despite the problem with the last vows.

2. As Provincial, and as a member of the SM Farm community since ¡¯93, I knew well the limitations of PJ. And so in various contexts I had mentioned to the Provincials that Samskriti (S) must have on its governing body and general body Jesuits who are competent to critique Samskriti, interact with and challenge PJ. This was not done. Nor did PJ have an understanding local superior during those crucial years.

3. The Provincial, Fr. Murickan, encouraged PJ to be in contact with the young people of the Province and to encourage them to opt for social and cultural ministries. Later PJ was unfairly criticized as patronizing the young. The young people who have any kind of sympathy for PJ are now frowned upon by the superiors.

4. PJ has criticized our institutions with unnecessary severity as being anti-poor, anti-Dalit, etc. But it must be remembered that his predecessors in the social action work and even some in the pastoral work were accused of doing more or less the same thing.

5. The central issue in the long battle between the Procurator and PJ was the advances of money PJ was asking and the Procurator was refusing. In a meeting of the Provincial, the Consult and the GB of Samskriti, through a careful unraveling of the facts it became clear that the advances PJ was asking were on the money which would be soon coming for Samskriti through the Procurator from the agencies, and that the Procurator had not understood this. PJ desperately needed money to pay the salaries of the employees of Samskriti. It was in this context he is said to have used threats and abuse. The Procurator should share the blame as also the Provincial who had not taken the trouble to study the problem fully.

6. The Procurator’s job is to help the Province in managing the finances and keeping the accounts. As an official close to the Provincial a certain reticence is expected of him in public forums. But during the past few years, our Procurator was freely expressing himself on policies of the Province, questioning the religious integrity of individual Jesuits, emotionally and sometimes sarcastically using a ‘we’ and ‘you’ language. All this aggravated the PJ problem. Even after the dismissal of PJ the Procurator has made statements to the press about the moral and religious defects of PJ.

7. At PJ’s suggestion the Province bought the ILLAM. Then PJ wanted some of the activities of S to continue in the Farm itself. In his typical fashion he campaigned for it. This has been cited against him. However it must be noted that more than one meeting of the concerned Province forums endorsed PJ’s stand.

8. The Superior of the community accused PJ of instigating outsiders against members of the community. A commission appointed by him found the charge unfounded. In another case the Superior himself did not co-operate with the investigation. It is important to remember this since the conflicts in the community have strongly influenced the course of events in this case.

9. The P finally decided that all the activities of S should be shifted to the ILLAM. It was not an easy job; the illam was not in a fit condition. The Provincial made no time-schedule for the shift, made no arrangement for PJ’s stay elsewhere.

10. Instead he suddenly announced the transfer of PJ. In the context it looked like a punishment for the ‘troubles’ PJ was creating. There was no prior discussion of the transfer. As far as the future of Samskriti was concerned the decision was a surprise. As far as PJ¡¯s feelings were concerned it was very insensitive. PJ raised the objection in conscience a step allowed by our rules and taken by some others in the Province earlier.

11. After much interaction PJ accepted the transfer, and wrote a very conciliatory letter to the Provincial, with my help: it was in good faith that he had objected to the transfer; having made his point he was now ready to go; he would like to have some time for reflection, etc. and prepare himself for his last vows, where should he go? To my mind, the Provincial’s reply was not a gracious or forgiving one. It was unnecessarily peremptory. I have always thought that there the Provincial missed a wonderful opportunity. Reacting to the letter, PJ refused to quit Samskriti.

12. Later at the intervention of some of us he handed over the charge of S to E J Thomas.

13. Dominic George came up with the idea of a comprehensive dialogue of reconciliation between the Provincial, the Consulters and PJ, with Dominic, Thayil and Pulickal and facilitators. In the meeting PJ said that he was not ready for any reconciliation because the transfer was unfairly imposed on him; he would cooperate to solve the problems connected with the accounts of S, the camera, etc; he wants to be left alone for some time to reflect etc. Dominic George, Thayil and I suggested to the Provincial that he be allowed to do that.

That PJ did not go along with the idea of reconciliation in that meeting has been mentioned as a point against him. I don’t think it is fair to do that. It was a privately initiated meeting. What PJ refused to do was to have a ‘spiritual reconciliation’ with the Provincial. He was very willing to cooperate in all practical matters.

14. PJ had certainly become bellicose towards the Procurator. However he has all along said that he would satisfactorily explain every point in Samskriti accounts to an impartial person. This checking by an impartial person was not done (if it was, the results have not been made public). And Province has spread the impression that PJ has thoroughly mismanaged the accounts or even siphoned off money from Samskriti.

15. After the ‘reconciliation’ meeting, things seem to have fast fouled up between the Provincial and PJ. The next thing that I hear is that the P and ordered PJ to go to Frs Puthumana and Kunumpuram in Patna to receive counseling. Assigning counselors to grown up persons is just not done normally. Doing that to PJ at that juncture was insensitive in the extreme. PJ seems to have reacted to the idea angrily.

16. The Provincial informed him that he was proceeding with the dismissal of PJ from the Society. PJ wrote letters to the P and to the General. In one which he wrote with my help he said his aggressive temperament, which had served him well to be creative in ministries and to face the challenges in them, had also led him wrong sometimes he was sorry; he wants to go for a renewal program including a long retreat; he was ready to be re-assigned anywhere in Kerala or in another Province; the only request he was making was that he be allowed to continue as a Jesuit.

I hoped against hope that this would be a turning point in this affair. But the Provincial said PJ¡¯s expression of regret smacked of insincerity, and that anyway the letter was too late.

17. The dismissal was given. The events that followed are well known.

18. I turn to one series of happenings. 1. Already some time before the dismissal of PJ a Jesuit not a Consulter told me: he had the Provincial¡¯s file on PJ; would I tell him something more about some incidents in PJ’s life when I was Provincial? Obviously I would not, because I consider that a breach of confidentiality. 2. As things were hotting up in Christ Hall at PJ’s refusal to move out, the Superior of SM Farm said that a lawyer sent by the Provincial’s office was here with documents on PJ’s observance of the three vows in order to show PJ¡¯s lay friends in Pariyaram what sort of a person PJ really was. The lawyer went also to Mattul with the same purpose. 3. Around this time PJ had started saying that letters and photographs were stolen from his room in Christ Hall. 4. The Clarist Sisters of Mananthawadi have said the following: a man claiming to be a lawyer sent by the Jesuit P¡¯s office told one of their sisters that he had with him her letters to PJ and they would be made public if she did not persuade PJ to leave Christ Hall. 5. Some time later an article appears in the periodical called Crime alleging immoral relationship between PJ and a nun, finding fault with him for being ungrateful to the society.

Putting these facts together I cannot but conclude that confidential information and documents have been used by the Provincial in a highly improper way against PJ.

19. In the special consult on the 20th of last April it was said by the Provincial that PJ¡¯s latest agitation was in violation of the agreement in the mediation group of Oct., ¡¯01. I said: the agreement of Oct. ¡®1, to which the Province is party, stated that a committee would examine the legal possibility of re-admitting PJ to the Soc; then the mediation group would examine the committee¡¯s report and make recommendations; this process was not gone through; and so when PJ says the Province has not kept its word, truth is at least partly on his side, we must now do what is necessary. My observation was ignored.

In my opinion the Province, by falling to follow-up intelligently the decisions of Oct. ¡¯01 missed another wonderful opportunity to end this problem peacefully.

20. That PJ was 53 years old when he was dismissed and that it was extremely difficult for a person of that age to start a career elsewhere, that he was in the Society for over 30 years, that we had got him ordained when the Society¡¯s (present) law is that a scholastic selected for Ordination is presumed to be suitable for the last vows, that all these years he has been, if problematical, also highly effective and very much praised and used by the Society, that in his philosophy days in a long ‘discernment’ he had concluded he wants to be in the Society and that all through the recent troubles he has shown a singular desire to be a Jesuit these facts must have DIRECTLY argued against his dismissal.

Let me share with you some personal experiences in administration. 1. One of the first things I did as Provincial was urging Fr. General to take decision about those who were long waiting for last vows. The information about some was negative. Fr. General accepted my reasoning that could be ignored. 2. In a particular decision I made, the concerned Jesuits raised ‘objection in conscience’, basing themselves on a mistake I had unintentionally made, and refused to obey the decision. I apologized in writing for the mistake. Because of the complications created by that mistake, and considering the well being of all of us I withdrew my order which in itself was good, I have always thought.

I am not a personal friend of PJ, nor his guide. Our contacts were very occasional. During the last two years we have not met. However religiously and intellectually I have challenged him, perhaps more than anyone else in the Province has; and he was not unresponsive. And, I have had an important role in the turn of events in favor of the Province in the course of this conflict. It is with the strength of that experience that I speak up on this issue.

Each of us, I suppose, live by and go by our understanding of the message of Jesus \”If your righteousness does not go beyond that of the Scribes and Pharisees you will not enter the kingdom of heaven\”; ‘Love your enemies (visit them in their hunger strike sheds, take initiatives for rapprochement¡¦) bless those who persecute you bless, not curse¡¯; ¡®Much (compassion and understanding) will be demanded of those who have been given much (authority and many privileges) these and so many other similar passages I am able to read only as demanding limitless compassion, scrupulous truthfulness and great caution in using authority and power. Of late I have had occasion to reflect about the values of loyalty, fidelity etc. The words of GC 34 come as a comforting clarification: \”Our first fidelity must be to God, to the truth and to a well-formed conscience. Obedience, then, cannot exclude our prayerful discernment of the course of action to be followed, one that may in some circumstances differ from the one suggested by our religious and Church superiors\” (n.311).

The incidents and statements mentioned in this write-up are largely from memory. It is possible that I have slipped up in some details. I request you to focus on my over-all argument.

As I conclude this write-up on June 17, PJ Joseph must be carrying on his hunger strike in Calicut. I believe the incident is a very sad failure on the part of the Province.

J. Pulickal SJ

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Update
Document ID : UP-48-2002
Countries : India,