A Fidelity that Rebels: Lessons from the Movie Whale Rider
Local churches in several countries are courting their own problems. There are clamours for reforms from within and without. Specifically referring to some of the latest scandals within the Church in India, the author discusses the thorny issue of obedience, especially religious obedience.
Using the New Zealand movie Whale Rider as an interpretive lens and drawing lessons from it, the author argues, in this article, that a fidelity that seeks to rebel must fight the system from within, with faithfulness to the original source, with an empathic love that alone can link obedience and prophetism.
He argues that "Love, love alone justifies an obedience that rebels at the service of prophesy. Love, love alone ensures that it does so not to hurt, but to heal; not to exclude, but to embrace; not to shame, but to redeem; not to kill, but to give life."
There are no two opinions that the Catholic Church is going through some very hard times. The sexual abuse scandal that exploded nearly two decades ago does not seem to end—newer cases are cropping up everywhere, including in some very strong citadels of the Church. Pope Francis is coping criticism from within and without for what some consider to be his too progressive stance on some moral issues. There have been financial scandals and crises of disobedience in Vatican as well as elsewhere.
The Church in India has been going through its share of problems and challenges as well. The Syro-Malabar Church, together with its patriarch, has been mired for some time in scams related to land sale. The most recent event in the Indian Church has been the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar Diocese (currently divested of his position) following the accusation of repeated rape of a religious sister. This event has snowballed into a major crisis, precipitating, among other things, the thorny issue of obedience, vowed by members of religious orders and promised by diocesan clergy to their superiors.
These events have led the laity, who has been at the receiving end of a highly clericalized and ritualized Indian Church, to release their pent-up frustrations and anger towards the hierarchy of the Church. Even from within the hierarchy of the Church are emanating voices of dissent, anger, frustration, and sense of betrayal. Some of those who had been spokespersons for the hierarchy have become its staunch critics. The mushrooming of expansive church structures, the funds for which are sometimes raised through forced donations from the faithful, has become an eyesore for many.
There were reports of protests against the visit of George Cardinal Alancherry, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church to the Syro-Malabar communities in England, the latter expressing their anger at what they perceived to be highhanded ways of dealing with the diaspora and the financial exploitation they were subjected to.5 In every sense, a great tsunami is threatening to engulf the Church, especially in India.
Mass Media with their insatiable need for breaking news as well as the proliferation of social media networks such as Facebook and WhatsApp have helped these challenges become the talk of the town and feeder for never-ending debates. Those who are members of WhatsApp groups would know very well how the discourse gets way too emotionally intensive and often times highly subjective, speculative, and prematurely judgemental. Everyone seems to be an authority on what is happening and oftentimes the exchange of ideas goes beyond the limits of dignity and decorum, ambushing dissenting views and shaming those who dissent.
In one sense, it is providential that there are avenues where anyone can state one’s opinions and be heard as well. For, it is necessary that there must be space for expression of one’s feelings and ideas regarding what is happening within the Church. However, what stands out in many interactions and debates is the bitterness and hostility that seep out of them, hurting everyone, and one wonders if it does more harm than good. There is real apprehension among those who care if the Church in India, very specially the Church in Kerala, will end up like the secularized West with no space for faith practices, that too, with a pace greater than what it took for the West to reach where it is now.
Paulson Veliyannoor is a Claretian missionary priest currently serving as staff at the Forge Center for Claretian Renewal in Madrid, Spain. He holds a doctorate in clinical psychology. Correspondence concerning this article may be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org