The more I read about the happenings in churches in Kerala, the more I am convinced that these religious establishments need a makeover.

They need to be baptized again, by total immersion! Reports are rife about priests and prelates suffering from excessive testosterone and running amuck. A recent case is that of a functionary in the US who had to flee overnight from stringent American rape laws.

Without much ado, he was given an equivalent post in Kerala.

Alas, nothing more was heard about it. There seems to be an Omerta code operating in the shadows of the Basilicas.

Most Christian establishments in India haven’t covered themselves with glory and some have serious charges ranging from rape to malfeasance levelled against the clergy. A good number of them have landed up in courts.

Spirituality has been a casualty and places of worship have become revenue centres, with priests almost functioning as collection agents. Many in the religious hierarchy think their work is done once they mouth pious words and cite the scriptures. They perform their roles as if it were a job, not a ‘calling’.

And to cap it all, their spiritual heads function like CFOs with an Argus eye on the profit and loss ledger. Positions in the church are sometimes traded ~ the ones who can garner more revenue are rewarded with prize postings in the Gulf and in the US. They are in a rat race. a kind of jockeying for prominence.

Priests who miss the bus are the ones who spill the beans. On one side, you have the ‘word’ of God’ and on the other, you have the perversions of the prelates who yearn for pelf and power – anathema to the ‘word of God’ – forgetting the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

The higher hierarchy, who have pretensions to superior sanctity, prefer luxury cars and comfortable living and conduct rituals and ceremonies like baptism, marriages and funerals on prior payment. Humility, the essence of the Gospels, has been lost on them.

They have also chosen to forget the words of St Peter who said that “Gold or silver have I none”. The prelates possibly have plenty of it. Religious thought has been devalued. What is preached is seldom practiced. And what is worse is preaching by those whose lives are hardly a testimony.

There is absolutely no accountability in the set-up. How can ‘divine plenipotentiaries’ be answerable to mere mortals? There’s a fear of divine wrath among the orthodox laity. In any case, dissent is put down with a heavy hand.

Meanwhile the two factions in the Orthodox Church have resumed their street fights with redoubled vigour over control of revenue-bearing churches with bishops observing dharna.

There are murmurs in the Orthodox faction about its overbearing manner in forcing the handover of churches, while all of them agree that the Supreme Court orders should be implemented. Recently, one group forced open a church in the wee hours and resumed their rituals.

The other faction, that had a Supreme Court verdict in its favour, lodged a police complaint which resulted in the earlier occupants being remanded to custody. The skirmish is not of recent origin. It has been going on for more than a century and with the passage of time, it has only become uglier. What’s sad is that the sanctity has been lost.

The places of worship have been defiled. The New Testament has it that during the passover, Jesus drove the traders, merchants and money lenders out of the Temple in Jerusalem accusing them of turning it into “a den of thieves” through their commercial activities. “My temple is called the house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves” (Mathew 21: 12-14). Will there be a Nathan (a prophet in the Old Testament) among us who can look at the church hierarchy and pointedly say “That man is you”…

The writer is a former Executive Director of SAIL.