Close on the heels of reports of the Vatican's involvement in support of the Italian naval guards who have been arrested by the Kerala police for the murder of two fishermen at sea, an alleged statement by Cardinal George Alencherry – India’s newest Roman Catholic cardinal — has stirred a new controversy.
Agenzia Fides in Rome has reported that Alencherry "has taken an interest in mediating and seeking a peaceful solution to the delicate situation. Fides further said in an interview that the cardinal has confirmed that “he has contacted the Catholic ministers who are in the government of Kerala", announcing his constant interest until the case is "clarified and resolved peacefully", removing the risk, however real, of political exploitation."
"I am and will remain in close contact with the Catholic ministers of Kerala and I hope that they will help to pacify the situation. In particular, I trust in the work of the Tourism Minister, the Catholic KV Thomas, who participated in the consistory in Rome in past days and attended the mass with the Holy Father and the new cardinals: he is a man of great moral stature and of significant influence, both in the local and central government, and he assured me his maximum effort. I guarantee, in the next few days, my constant involvement with the Indian authorities on the matter".
"I learned the story of the Catholic fishermen killed: it is very sad. I immediately contacted the Catholic ministers of Kerala urging the government not to act precipitately. In the episode, of course, there were errors, since the fishermen were mistaken for pirates. But the point is another: it seems that the opposition party wants to take advantage of the situation and exploit the case for electoral reasons, speaking of 'Western powers' or the 'will of American dominance'," he is quoted as saying by Fides.
The Latin Catholic Church in Kollam reacted sharply to the alleged statement of Alencherry. They called it unfortunate and said it was against the interests and sentiments of the fisherfolk. The families of the victims also vehemently slammed the alleged statement.
However, the spokesperson of Alencherry's Syro Malabar Church has denied any such remarks by the cardinal. He said that Italian news agency, which has reportedly carried the statement, would have twisted it. The cardinal also didn't speak to any Catholic ministers on this, he said.
George Alencherry is currently in Rome following his investiture by the Pope.
The Latin Catholics, mostly on the coastal belt of Kerala, are not likely to be happy with the reported statement from Alencherry, who is from the substantially more socio-politically influential Syro Malabar Church. This controversy is likely to amplify the socio-political divide between the two communities, although both are Catholics.