Pune bishop draws flak for calling for dialogue with RSS

RSS values are not opposed to Gospel values, said the Bishop, adding dialogue is needed to clear misunderstandings and prejudices between the two sides

Goa church
A spokesperson for a Christian group said that they have never seen the RSS condemning the humiliation of Christians, the attacks on their institutions, or the terrorising of Muslim minorities. Representational image: iStock

A Catholic bishop has received widespread flak from Christian groups and community members across the country after he stressed the importance of dialogue between the Church and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The bishop later retracted his statements on Sunday (June 19).

Thomas Dabre, Bishop of Poona Diocese, had taken part in the launch of the Social Science Journal, a quarterly published by the Shripati Shastri Research Institute of Social Sciences, which has ties with the RSS, on June 12, in Pune. Speaking at the inauguration, he said that “the Sangh believes in nationalism and the Church also believes in nationalism.” He also stated that “love for one’s country” is the factor that unites the RSS and the Christian community.

In an interview, Dabre said that he has always maintained the stand that the Church must engage the RSS in dialogue. He said he “personally maintains good relations with the RSS” and has also “forged bonds of friendship” with them and that it was an honour for him that they published his two-page message in their journal. Padre stated that he wanted to act as an intermediary between the Catholic Church and the RSS since Pune is the main centre of the latter’s ideology.

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In the same breath, Dabre also said all the negative reactions to his comments were like “a storm in a teacup” since “the reactions are mostly based on ignorance…” He further questioned whether RSS values were indeed opposed to Gospel values, and added that dialogue was needed between the two (RSS and Church) to clear misunderstandings and prejudices that exist on both sides.

‘Out of proportion’

Dabre issued a clarification on Sunday after several Christian groups and prominent community members expressed their unhappiness with his views that were expressed. In it, he stated: “My impromptu speech at the release of a periodical to promote research in relation to politics, economics, and sociology etc., has received publicity totally out of proportion. People across the board have expressed surprise.”

“Despite my good intentions for the promotion of the mission of the Church and the progress of our country, the formation of my position on the dialogue with RSS was flawed and did not accurately reflect my views,” he further stated.

He concluded: “I hereby withdraw the formulation as reported…”

Speaking with The Federal, Dolfi Dsouza, spokesperson for the Bombay Catholic Sabha, said that there is a distinction between dialogue with religious leaders and with organisations that currently control the labours of power in the government at the Centre and a few other states.

“There needs to be a distinction in terms of with whom do you engage in dialogue,” he said, adding that what they have observed is that maybe Dabre’s timing to make these observations was not correct.

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Over the last 10 months, right-wing saffron groups have vandalised catholic schools and churches across the country, intimidated community members — including chasing a priest by a person brandishing a sword — and even burned the Bible.

“In the last three years, over 1,000 such cases have been documented,” said Dsouza.

“Dialogues have happened with religious leaders in the past and have gone hand-in-hand…but now, there is growing hate propaganda against minority communities, including the intimidation and violence against these communities. There is no stoppage to this issue…the violence and intimidation continue. A dialogue with the Sangh Parivar would serve no purpose unless there is an immediate end to the physical and verbal violence against these communities, as well as the withdrawal of anti-religious conversion laws which are patently in violation of human rights,” he said.

‘Context matters’

He added, “The context in which we look at dialogue is very important. Dialogue can happen only in the place where we can build an honourable methodology…towards building a strong, secular nation where everyone can live in peace in harmony.”

When asked whether Gospel and RSS values were similar, he said: “These are contradictions. The whole concept of RSS and its Hindutva ideology are based on principles that are non-negotiable. The first such concept is the establishment of a Hindu rashtra, which means treating minorities –including Muslims and Dalits – as second-class citizens. We (Christians) have been told to go to Rome and Muslims are always told to go to Pakistan…so I wonder where will the Dalits go.”

Dsouza said that the Sabha has taken up the matter with Dabre and expressed to him that they are “upset.”

“We need to be cautious with whom we should take the next step and at the same time, we need to also be smart enough and say that we do want to engage in dialogue – but only when you (Sangh Parivar) give a call to end the violence,” he said. “We have never seen the RSS condemning the humiliation of Christians, the attacks on Christian institutions, or the terrorising of Muslim minorities whose homes have been bulldozed overnight,” he asserted.

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He felt the Prelate should have used this opportunity to communicate the anguish of the community and citizens to the RSS….and articulate that they were upset and disappointed by what is happening in the country. “It has become like the situation between an oppressor and the oppressed,” he said.

Melwyn Fernandes, general secretary of the Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC), said: “The RSS, BJP and other saffron groups are attacking so many churches in India without any reason. They (RSS) are not taking any action regarding the demolition of churches…other minorities, including us, are angry with them because they treat us as foreigners.”

Fernandes pointed out that it is not Dabre’s jurisdiction to issue such comments since there is a Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) that takes up and governs such matters. “I think he is misleading the community…”, he said.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay said that there was a “massive ideological difference in what the RSS looks at and what the Church looks at.”

“There are certain things that one cannot reconcile,” said the spokesperson. “A fascist ideology cannot be endorsed. If the RSS holds on to its fascist ideology, we cannot endorse that.”