Kerala angel's army ruffles feathers

Kerala has seen protests against the clergy following the rape of a nun. PTI FILE

The Catholic Church in Kerala has stirred up a hornet's nest with its decision to form a forum of ex-servicemen and retired police personnel, especially at a time when the clergy is facing severe backlash over sex scandals and land scams.

Church authorities, however, maintained that the 'Gabriel Army of Thalaserry' — an initiative of the Archdiocese of Tellicherry (Thalassery) in Kannur district of North Kerala — is being raised for traffic and crowd control at a mass gathering of farmers to be held in Kannur on December 9. The 100-strong unit will be disbanded after the event, they said.

There are murmurs that the Gabriel (a Biblical reference to angel Gabriel) Army is being formed on the lines of Hanuman Sena and Ayyappa Dharma Sena. Many fear  the move will set a wrong precedent as the Church in Kerala is facing stiff opposition from believers and public on issues like the rape case against former Jalandhar bishop Franco Mulakkal, land grab case against Cardinal George Alencherry and the power tussle between the Orthodox and Jacobite factions of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.

Adovocate Indulekha Joseph, a member of the Save Our Sisters collective that fought for the arrest of Franco Mulakkal, said the services of retired military men and police personnel could be used by the Church to suppress rising protests against the clergy. Former cops who have connections with serving officers might come in handy, she said.

Father Mathew Asariparambil, director of Tellicherry Archdiocese, dismissed the concerns and asserted that the forum was just a voluntary group being formed for the North Malabar Farmers Agitation. About one lakh farmers from Kannur and Kasargod will attend the event, which will also see the participation of prominent activists and political leaders.

Fr Mathew said ex-servicemen and retired policemen were preferred due to their experience in these fields. Similar units, like a medical forum comprising doctors and nurses, were also being set up. All these groups will cease to exist after the respective events. They have no connection with any issues affecting the Church in Kerala, he said.

Former Director General of Police Alexander Jacob said it was not the name that matters but what the group does. If the Church formed the forum with a good intention, it need not be blamed as there were many such religious forums engaged social service, he said.

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