'The idea of aligning with different political parties -- parties that are relevant at a particular period -- is opportunistic and unacceptable.'
There was a time the church and Christians in Kerala were totally behind the Congress party and the United Democratic Front.
With the Congress losing support due to infighting, a section of the church started leaning towards the Left Democratic Front.
But what shocked everyone was the affinity the church has started showing towards the Bharatiya Janata Party.
When Narendra D Modi -- the BJP supremo and India's prime minister -- visited Kerala in April, he held meetings only with some Christian leaders, perhaps with the hope of gaining their support in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
On May 13, a Catholic priest, Father Ajimon Puthiyaparambil relinquished his priestly duties at the Thamarassery diocese. One reason for his resignation was the church's 'opportunistic political alliance'.
"When times change, you should not change your alliance. Then, it becomes an opportunistic political alliance," Father Ajimon Puthiyaparambil tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier, emphasising that he has not quit the priesthood.
Recently the Thalassery archbishop openly said the BJP would get Christian votes if the farmers got better price for rubber. There were reports about some Christian leaders meeting RSS figures.
When Modi came to Kerala, he had meetings with leaders of the church. Are these the reasons behind your decision to quit?
Yes. I mentioned in my letter that they (the church) were going after opportunistic political alliances.
I believe that the policy of the church should be the policy of Jesus Christ.
He had said, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's'.
So, the duty of the church is not to involve itself in active politics, but follow the path of Jesus Christ.
The idea of aligning with different political parties -- parties that are relevant at a particular period -- is opportunistic and unacceptable.
You said the church should not involve itself in active politics but the church and Christians in Kerala were seen as supporters of the Congress all the time...
The ideology of a political party is very important.
Do you mean the church support was because the Congress followed a secular ideology?
See, anybody can accept a secular ideology. It need not be the Congress alone.
If other political parties follow a secular ideology, we should accept them too.
But you cannot accept the language of hatred.
At the same time, the church need not have any political alliance. That's not the duty of the church.
That's why I said, when times change, you should not change your alliance. Then, it becomes an opportunistic political alliance.
As you said, if the church had been supportive of the Congress, it should have continued being so.
But we saw many church leaders taking a pro-Communist or pro-LDF stance later though people did not change their alliance.
When the BJP came to power, if they had started showing interest in them, it means the changes are not ideological, but opportunistic.
Political alliances themselves are wrong as the duty of the church is not to have political alliances.
That's why the new alliance the church is trying with the BJP is unholy.
Am I not right in calling this cheap bargaining politics?
You should not indulge in such cheap politics.
Yes, the church should raise its voice for poor farmers, the marginalised, for those who are suffering, for those living in coastal areas, irrespective of which political party is in power. But it should not be in the form of a bargain.
Were the three incidents I mentioned in the first question, shocking for you?
Yes, all these incidents were shocking.
The prime minister can meet people from any religion, but when he came here, he met only people from one religion.
He should have met representatives from all religions, not Christians alone.
Were all these reasons behind your resignation?
Definitely. I have mentioned all these reasons in the letter I wrote.
In 2015 when several churches were attacked throughout the country, many church leaders met the prime minister to air their concerns. Now, they are meeting for an exactly opposite reason though the ground situation has not changed much. Did you expect such a turnaround?
My opinion has always been that the church should have only one stand; it should not take opportunistic decisions.
The church should have spoken in a strong voice against what is happening in Manipur.
It's not just the churches, no religious place should be destroyed, whether it belongs to Hindus or Muslims.
There was a time when the church used to raise its voice for everybody.
The voice of church leaders from Kerala was very feeble and weak on what is happening in Manipur.
Did you personally feel like raising your concern on this issue?
Definitely. I wanted to raise my voice not as a religious matter.
It was more of a human concern for me when in one part of the country, churches were being destroyed.
I read reports that more than 73 churches were burnt.
Do you feel the church in Kerala and the BJP are trying to get closer?
Efforts are going on from both sides, more so from the BJP.
That's why when the prime minister came to Kerala, there was a meeting with church leaders.
The BJP already has managed to win the support of some small Christian organisations.
Is it because of Islamophobia?
Hatred towards Muslims is indeed being created all over India.
I think that we should not have a situation where there is hatred or fear toward someone. We should love and accept everyone.
Nobody should talk the language of hatred. Nobody should take decisions based on hatred.
Why is yours a lone voice?
I don't think mine is a lone voice.
So many people feel like me, perhaps they are not talking loudly. I indeed decided to raise my concerns.
Please remember that I have not relinquished the priesthood. I continue to be a Catholic priest.
You have resigned from the ministry...
I have only resigned from the parish ministry.
Now, I am on a prophetic mission which is to point out when things like these happen.
Just because I point these out, it doesn't mean I am perfect.
Whenever decay happened, somebody pointed it out. I am just doing that.
Please note that politics is only one of my concerns.
Walking away from the path of Jesus Christ is another concern of mine.
A lot of debates have been going on about a ritual that is followed in the church; that is, should we face the altar or the people when we recite the prayers?
The fact is, it is not an important issue at all.
Great people like Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi raised their voices against rituals.
In the name of a ritual, a church in Ernakulam has been closed for six months.
Should you give more importance to rituals is the question.
Jesus Christ said when you give importance to silly matters, you forget your mission. That's what is happening now.
In the decision-making bodies of a church, laypeople are not there. There are no women, no sisters.
The decision-making bodies are not inclusive. This is another concern of mine.
I also feel the financial administration of the churches should be transparent.
Didn't you raise your concern with the ministry?
It is not that I have not raised these issues. I have. But there are limitations when one raises one's voice while inside.
I cannot tell this to other parishioners because it will create a division which I shouldn't do.
That's why I wanted my voice to be independent.
Now they can also speak freely about the concerns I have raised.
Will you join politics?
No. Never. My aim is not politics, but the reformation of the church.
I am only objecting to the opportunistic political alliance the church is trying to formulate.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com