Don’t misuse the pulpit as a political platform, or get caught in the “hustle and bustle” of political activity, That’s the advice to priests of Goa’s fairly influential Catholic Church, from its head archbishop Raul N Gonsalves. In a four-page circular with potential consequences, the archbishop has urged that the “pulpit should never be used as a political platform to propagate or support any particular political philosophy or ideology”.
In a significant stand where politicians have often demanded their ounce of flesh from the Church, the advise urges priests not to offer “special concessions or considerations” to individuals at church services “merely because they hold particular political or public office”.
“Inside the church, all worshippers are to be treated equally,” says the statement signed by the archbishop.
This is perhaps the first wide-reaching statement of its kind issued by a church, which has shown an increasing interest in taking up this-worldly issues and concerns, but has also drawn flak for allowing its pulpit to be misused — at times — to support the interests of certain politicians.
In the past, certain priests have been seen as taking stands which favour certain politicians, particularly in coastal central Goa and areas like Salcete, where the Catholic vote plays a determining result in the elections.
“Prudence demands that priests and religious are not seen to support or promote any particular political party or ideology or candidates through their public pronouncements or conduct,” says the statement.
It says that common platform could be offered to candidates contesting elections, but church premises “should not be made available for the exclusive use of any one political party or candidate”.
Priests should criticise “unjust social structures, or policies and actions” but not target individuals. It calls on priests to avoid taking a stand on technical issues — like industrial projects — unless they understand the issues.
In the past, the church has taken a stand on environmental issues.
But as the statement points out that the “visible presence” of priests or religious at protest rallies against injustice “even though this is their prerogative as citizens in a democractic society” could provide detractors “with an excuse to communalise the issue”.
It adds that priests have a role as “full-fledged citizens in a democratic polity” but need to be prudent while enlightening the faithful “about the social dimension of the Gospel”.
“As good shepherds, priests and religious are required to be involved in issues of social concern as an integral part of their pastoral ministry (and) have an obligation to conscientize the faithful about their responsibility to work for the establishment of a just social order,” says the guidelines.
It also reminds priests that they “have a duty to denounce publicly unjust socio-economic structures which dehumanize and impoverish men, women and children”.
Besides, it says, priests “need to encourage” Catholics to participate in “honest political activity, including party politics” to “fulfil their prophetic role in transforming society”.