The state of the Indian Church

I am often tempted, for good reason, to compare the Catholic Church with the Govt. of India, says the writer.

By Chhotebhai

It is finally out – The Catholic Directory of India 2013 (CDI 13). I have always been an ardent collector of the CDIs, because I believe that they contain a wealth of information on the state (or status) of the church in India. The oldest CDI that I have is of 1912, and the latest one I have is of 1998. So as soon as the 2013 issue was out I made a grab for it. I was surprised to read therein that the CDI was also published in 2000 and 2005/06. Despite my vigilance, I seem to have missed them.

I believe that every serious writer, commentator or thinker in the church should be armed with a copy of the CDI, as it is the most authentic statistical yearbook of the church. Besides what is obviously stated, one also needs to read between the lines, and study the fine print, to determine the actual health, or wealth, of the church!

The CDI 13 has been published by Claretian Publications, Bangalore, on behalf of the CBCI. It has over 2500 pages, and though it states that it is for “Private Circulation only”, it costs a whopping Rs 1650/-. It is value for money though, if we value knowledge and information. Surprisingly, though published in March itself, it already has the photograph of Pope Francis. One must therefore conclude that every attempt has been made to be spot on. That is a sign of good scholarship and sincere research. One must express unreserved appreciation for the Editor-in-Chief, Rev Benny Kanjirakatt CMF and his editorial team. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

I am often tempted, for good reason, to compare the Catholic Church with the Govt of India. Both have an established hierarchy, with the aam aadmi at the bottom of the pyramid; with little or no say in governance, planning or decision making. Both roll out statistical achievements, which do not necessarily depict the quality of life of the intended beneficiaries. A preliminary (superficial) glance at the statistical data of the CDI 13 would have the bishops thumping each other’s backs in self-adulation.

Look at the raw data:

166 dioceses, 166 bishops, 10 auxiliaries, 3 particular bishops, and 56 retired ones – altogether 223. Of these 5 were among the 115 cardinal electors for the new pope. And one of them has already been included in his panel of 8 advisors.

296 religious institutes for priests, 29 for brothers, 343 for sisters, 41 pious associations, and 36 secular institutes.

A total of 17,535,429 Catholics, covered by 10,715 parishes, 22,451 priests and 5764 religious houses.

Institutionally, there are a phenomenal 12,781 educational institutions, 6603 for social welfare, 2692 for health, 668 for the media, and just 360 for spiritual services! They add up to 23,104 institutions. If just 360 of these (less than 2%) are categorised as spiritual ones, one must draw the odd conclusion that the Catholic Church in India is already so spiritual that it does not need much help; or that spiritual ministry is very low on its list of priorities. So why are we talking about a “year of faith” or a “new evangelisation”?

The priest to Catholics ratio is a healthy 1:781, and the institution to Catholics ratio is a similar 1:759.

A detailed analysis of major data will follow in my next article. Among the interesting features of the CDI 13 is an article by Rev George Gispert-Sauch SJ on what he calls the “Provisional History of the Catholic Directory of India”. He uses the qualifying term “provisional”, because the history of the CDI is not clear. The first one was published in 1851; long before the Catholic hierarchy of India was erected in 1886. The earlier editions were called “The Madras Catholic Directory and Annual Register”. This CDI is probably the 106th edition. I might here add that there seem to be many more things in the CDI 13 that could be categorised as “provisional”, not very factual.

The CDI 13 has three distinct sections. The first section on general information has a grey border. The second section, which is the main body of the directory, has a pink border. This gives diocese wise information (pgs 145 – 2232). The third section, again with a grey border, has details of religious orders and congregations (pgs 2233 – 24438), followed by an alphabetical index of parishes (pgs 2439 – 2491).

As an amateur statistician I look for figures that tell a story. Here is where the CDI 13 fails miserably. For example, the number of priests is given, but not the number of religious sisters and brothers, who are actually the bulwark of the church’s apostolate. Do they not count?

The most glaring omission is the total black out of the laity. Earlier editions had atleast some information about national Catholic organisations recognised by the CBCI. This edition draws a blank on the laity. There is only one reference to a CBCI-AICU Dialogue Committee. Ironically, it gives the names of the 5 bishop members, but not of the AICU lay members! So is this a dialogue or a monologue committee? On scanning the CDI 13 I find only one layperson’s name mentioned. I shall call him the “venerable” Edward A Edezhath, the Joint Secretary of the CBCI Laity Commission. As an active lay leader I have never heard of this venerable gentleman. Perhaps his only claim to fame is his address – “Bishop Edezhath Road, Cochin”. I leave readers to draw their own conclusions.

Another oddity is that the section on general information begins with the Catolic Council of India (pg 43). It even precedes the CBCI. It talks of it as being “The Church as Communion”. This communion is restricted to just half a page! There is no mention of the office-bearers of this august body, or of what it has achieved since it was established on 12/1/1993. At that time I was the National President of the All India Catholic Union (AICU). I cannot recall being invited to this “communion”, or being made an ex-officio member of the same, by virtue of being the head of the largest and most representative democratically elected lay organisation in the country. The only “communion” that the aam aadmi in the Catholic Church experiences is that which is dispensed during eucharistic services. Perhaps our worthy bishops feel that is sufficient for the “church as communion”. A cruel joke.

The CDI 13 has interesting information on the Catholic population in 2003/2005/2013 (pg 86 ff), world religions (pg 91 ff), the Catholic population of various countries (pg 96), a chronology of “key events” in the church from 52 AD (pg 135 ff), and Census of India statistics (pg 84 ff).

But the biggest drawback, as compared to earlier editions is the “Recapitulation of Statistics”. Earlier each diocese had a detailed recap, including how many Catholic children were in our own schools. However, in this edition they are all clubbed together in one table (pg 77 ff), minus the data on Catholic students. A pity. A detailed analysis of the available data, including how scientific or credible it is, is the subject matter of my next article on this topic.

As already stated, the CDI 13 has over 2500 pages. It is so heavy that it must be placed on a study table to be read. Earlier directories were much slimmer. This issue could divest itself of some superfluous information. For example, each parish (over 10,000 of them), mention their mass timings; and each institution (again over 20,000 of them) mentions the number of professed and junior sisters. Of what use is such information to the general public? It should be dropped from future editions, thereby reducing the number of pages, as also the cost of the directory.

Despite its shortcomings, and some long hauls, I would recommend the CDI 13 to all serious scholars of ecclesiology. Copies may be ordered from or by calling 080 23446977. Happy reading.

The writer is a former National President of the All India Catholic Union.

Source: cmpaul.wordpress

Top Stories