Friday, March 27, 2009

How thin a line between Church and State?

Catholic churchgoers in Kerala will soon receive, in addition to the communion, an appeal to not vote for atheists.

The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council has issued a pastoral letter to be read out in Catholic churches from Sunday, urging parishioners to vote for those who uphold secularism and fight terrorism, according to a report in the Indian Express paper.

The church is also keen that people vote for politicians who will fight against euthanasia and abortion, a direct response to the Left-ruled state’s law reforms commission, which favours legalising euthanasia and floating a public trust to run church properties.

The communists have long been at loggerheads with the Catholic church on matters related to religion and education, including how church-run educational institutions — mostly profitable — should be run.

Kerala’s Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, an association of Catholic bishops, went one step further, reportedly calling the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party the “lesser evil” to the state’s Marxists.

Critics of the church say it has no business meddling in affairs of the state — or telling people whom they should vote for — and that the issue is really about money and diverting attention from its own troubles.

Supporters of the church — and the outspoken cardinal — say Christians in India are under attack and it is only fair that the church look out for itself and its people.

No doubt, the rhetoric — and not just from the Catholics — will rise in the runup to the election. But will the outcome settle the debate on the line between the Church and the state?

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