The Bishop of Palakkad, Jacob Manathodath, has courted controversy after recommending a Catholic as a candidate for the Communist Party of India (CPI) for an election in Kerala.
In his letter, dated 11th January, to Kanam Rajendram, the CPI State secretary, the bishop demanded the candidature of Isaac Varghese, a local industrialist for the upcoming elections for Kerala’s 140-seat legislative assembly.
“Mr Isaac Varghesse who has applied to you for animation to contend the election for the Legislative Assembly constituency of Mannarkkad is a prominent and respected member of our community,” he wrote.
“He will therefore get our support. He therefore has a good chance of winning the election. Hence I gladly recommend his application for your favourable consideration.”
Manathodath’s letter has been perceived as a breach with church doctrine which prohibits the support of communist parties, linked as they are to atheism.
In comments to AsiaNews, Fr Paul Thelakkat, a former spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Church, spoke out against clergy involving themselves in politics.
“It is not good for a bishop or a priest to show public support for a political party. This is contrary to the secular nature of democracy. Furthermore, it is always good to keep a healthy distance from political and religious parties,” he said.
However, he qualified his criticism by stating that Manathodath “is not not publicly asking people to vote for a political party. He is only asking a party to support the candidacy of one of its own members.”
Continuing, he cautioned against the particular involvement of Christians in politics.
“We Christians, who are a minority in India, must exercise the utmost caution with regard to involvement in parties at a time when our country is facing a democratic crisis in its majority religion.”
This is not the first time that Manathodath has hit the headlines. After filing documents to the police pertaining to a case about real estate transactions, he was incorrectly included on the First Information Report by police. He was subsequently removed from the report, which would have seen him investigated, on request by Cardinal Alencherry.
In 2018, Manathodath was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Archieparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly by Pope Francis.