As I enter the majestic gates of the Archbishop's home, a gigantic blue and white palace with gardens and courtyards, my stomach turns as I prepare to bring the epitome of poverty and corruption into the world of exorbitance and power. It has come to this--after numerous failures at getting help for the starving children of the orphanage, I have resolved to contact the Archbishop of Kolkata in a desperate plea, or rather confrontation, in an attempt to bring justice to them. I wait in the Archbishop's Parlour for the His Grace to meet me. Not only does the luxurious architecture intimidate me, but the fact that I will meet the city's head of the Catholic Church terrifies me. I am relieved that he appears humbly dressed in a mismatching combo of plaid shirt and shorts and he shuffles in calmly with his grandfatherly beard. As I begin to address him, he closes his eyes, not in rudeness, it appears, but in deep concentration.
"Your Grace, I come to you on behalf of the medical staff of Calcutta Rescue to alert you do a crisis we have discovered at the Bess Crawford Seva Niketan School and orphanage, a place with which I believe you are familiar. We come to you after finding serious medical concerns among the children, as well as terribly incompetent management. Brother Christopher and Father Gregory, members of the Catholic Church, are responsible for running this organization. Thus, because we believe it is the moral responsibility of the church to rectify the disastrous situation we have discovered, we call this issue to your attention. I have documented details in this report. In particular, we have been disturbed to find 39 Vitamin-A-deficient and many other generally malnourished children, based on physical signs on the children's bodies. This disaster is a direct result of the home's incompetent management, insufficient funds, and unhygienic conditions. The management has been uncooperative and in fact, indifferent to these problems. Because the children's eyesight and lives are at risk under the care of these men, CR has been compelled to take further measures to protect these innocent children, particularly the orphans. We have called upon several other organizations for funding and assistance, with marginal success. This inhuman state cannot continue. For the sake of these children's eyes and lives, please take action."
He sat with his eyes closed for a few moments, as I wondered if he had heard any of my monologue.
"This makes me very angry. This is very abnormal. The lack of accomodation, they don't even own the property! There is no proper structure, there are so many children, boys and girls sleeping together. I have come to question their legitimacy!" Not only did the blatant abuse of the children anger him, but the implications for causing trouble as a representation of men of the church. He explained the history of the church's interactions wth these men. Apparently, they have been operating this organization without the required permission of the Archdiocese; they have not abided by the church hierarchy.
"Are you a Catholic?" He asked me. I was tempted to lie, but stuttered, "Um, well, personally, no."
"Then I don't know if you will understand." He explained to me the levels of order that operate the church, wherein Brothers and Fathers live under the Archdiocese in their respective parishes. All Catholics are members of a parish, and must report to their local parish and the city Archdiocese. This ensures that all Catholics attend church, frequent the sacraments, go to confessions, and abide by a Catholic lifestyle. Anyone must obtain permission from the Archdiocese to conduct any "good works." Archbishop Lucas Sirkar did not support this operation in the first place, because their presence there was not condoned, they had no assignment to work there. Indeed, he agreed that this was not "good work" at all. He was worried most about the name of the church since there have been numerous scandals with child molestation, and this worried him even more worried than the health of the children. But he did agree:
"The tragedy is that these kids are suffering as a result. My advice to you is to run away from the whole situation. I'm sorry I can't help you. We have nothing to do with this. We are not responsible for anything going on. These men are disobeying the Canon Law! I want nothing to do with them. Who made Father Gregory president of this thing? We need order to our parishes!! Who knows if these children are living Catholic lives? Who knows if they are being taught catechism and how to go to confession? What an embarrassment to the Church!"
I certainly didn't care about the religious piety of the children as much as about how much food they were getting, but perhaps the bureaucratic hierarchy could finally work to my advantage in this case. Indeed he could help me, by disciplining the men who are essentially abusing children through neglect, if not for this very sin, then simply for their refusal to abide by the structure of the Archdiocese of Kolkata. Whatever the reason, I don't care, as long as these men are somehow forced out of power.
He said he would send another letter of admonition to them to request making their work "proper" with the church, demanding the details of their funding, operations, staffing, and legitimate record-keeping, all of which they will be unable to produce. Hopefully, their inability to do so will threaten their positions as preists and brothers.
His Grace then requested my picture to show to Father Gregory and Brother Christopher. I took his to show to my grandchildren.
"This makes me very worried. We have a legal problem on our shoulders. All people connected to this are a danger, morally, legally, and socially. It is like sitting on a volcano."
May it erupt.