ALLAHABAD 1st February (chottebhai) — : Bishop Isidore Fernandes, the Catholic bishop of Allahabad diocese in U.P. has been sacked by the Vatican. Reliable sources say that Bp Ignatius Menezes, the retired bishop of Ajmer, has been appointed the caretaker bishop of the diocese for about six months, or until the Vatican appoints a new bishop. Formal charge of the diocese was handed over to him by Abp Albert D’souza of Agra, on behalf of the Papal Nuncio on 31st January. The official website of the CBCI rather innocuously states that the bishop has “resigned”.
Readers will recall a mention of the incident in chhotebhai’s article, “Morals & Mortals” published earlier, wondering whether the ecclesiastical authorities would act firmly against the erring bishop.
Ironically the disgraced bishop was planning to celebrate the silver jubilee of his episcopal consecration on the forthcoming 8th August. Anticipating the storm that was brewing he started having celebrations in advance in various parishes! An inkling of what was in the pipeline was that Bp Isidore did not attend the recent episcopal consecrations of Bp Peter Parapullil at Jhansi on 6th January, nor that of Bp Pius D’souza at Ajmer on 19th January. It is not yet clear if he had been banned from participating in those consecrations.
For those who came in late, on 4th November 2012, Bp Isidore had consecrated one Prof R.B. Lal as a bishop of the latter’s independent church, known as “Yesu Darbar” (The Court of Jesus). Prof Lal is the Vice-Chancellor of the Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture and Technology (SHIAT), better known by its original name, Allahabad Agricultural Institute. It is now a deemed university.
As per the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, “The bishop who, without a pontifical mandate, consecrates a person a bishop, and the one who receives the consecration from him, incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See” (Can 1382). Being a bishop of 25 years standing, Bp Isidore would very well have known that his act of consecrating somebody a bishop was a schismatic act of ecclesiastical indiscipline that would invite papal censure and even ex-communication. As per the glossary of Canon Law, a latae sententiae offence is one that incurs a penal provision that ipso facto does not even merit a hearing. Some years ago conservative Abp Levevre was similarly ex-communicated for ordaining bishops to his Society of Pius X. The Vatican has been at loggerheads with the Nationalist Catholic Church in China that continues to ordain its own bishops.
This bishop’s clandestine act was uncovered by a full-page colour advertisement on the front page of the Hindustan Times of 5th November, the day after the act. This caused shock and scandal in the diocese. Some senior priests and lay leaders reported the matter to the Papal Nuncio in New Delhi, who, after due diligence, asked the schismatic bishop to resign. It is not yet clear if Bp Isidore has also been excommunicated, or if he has only been relieved of episcopal office.
SHIAT is a prestigious institution with multiple streams, and the present Vice Chancellor Prof (now Bishop) Lal is reportedly well connected politically. He is also a dynamic evangelist, with thousands of non-Christians coming to his Yesu Darbar on Sundays. Bp Isidore was on the Board of Governors of the institution, in which position he may have been able to get many admissions for people of his choice. This may have coloured his judgement.
Allahabad is the oldest diocese in north India after Agra. It also has the regional seminary. This sequence of events has dealt a severe blow to the image of the Catholic community. Another interesting aspect of the diocese is that for about 40 years it had an unwritten rule of recruiting priests from just one small district on the south west coast. Hence most of the diocesan priests, and even several bishops in the region, are country cousins. This has given rise to dual loyalty, whether to the people or their ethnic group.
It is expected that the Papal Nuncio will bear these facts in mind while scouting for a new bishop.