Minorities in India
The victory of the Hindu nationalist party in India’s month-long election was greeted with surprising equanimity by the secretary general of the country’s bishops’ conference. “The church should not be unduly concerned,” said Archbishop Albert D’Souza of Agra. “This result shows the maturity of the Indian electorate. The people have given a decisive verdict for a change.” The archbishop was commenting on the status of Christians in India and how they will fare under the new Hindu-dominated government.
Prime Minister-Elect Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, will be watched carefully by international observers. As governor of the state of Gujarat, he was strongly criticized for failing to do enough to stop the anti-Muslim protests that killed hundreds of people in 2002. John Dayal, an Indian Catholic and human rights activist, worries about the influence of the extremist Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Mr. Modi’s new government. The group has endorsed a Common Civil Code, which Muslims and Christians both criticize as being too Hindu-centric.
Meanwhile, the persecution of Christians continues. At a hearing before a U.S. Congressional committee in February, human rights advocates reported that Christians were subject to “physical and sexual assaults, murder and desecration of places of worship and graveyards.” We hope Mr. Modi can help stop this trend, but his track record for protecting minority rights is not good. In his home state of Gujarat, a person seeking to convert to another religion must obtain permission from a local magistrate. Mr. Modi was chief minister of Gujarat for over 10 years. Whether he can become a leader for all of India—rich and poor, Hindu, Muslim and Christian—remains to be seen.
Regulating God’s Bank
The Institute for Religious Works, known as the Vatican Bank, is again under scrutiny. According to a recent report by the Financial Information Authority, the Vatican’s financial watchdog, there were 202 “suspicious” transactions in 2013, of which five have been forwarded to a prosecutor. During 2012 there were only six suspicious transactions. René Bruelhart, the Swiss lawyer who heads the F.I.A., explained that the spike in numbers indicates that the new procedures to flag potential problems are working, not that more illegal activity is taking place.
Nevertheless, there is a long way to go in the reform process. “We are not perfect yet,” Bruelhart acknowledged. “I think we are on the right track.”
What was once intended as a savings bank for diplomats, journalists, workers, residents and members of religious orders within the Vatican has been exploited by some for less-than-pious purposes, epitomized last year by one priest employee known for his extravagant lifestyle, called Monsignor Cinquecento because he carried 500 euro banknotes around with him. From the 1980s onward—if not before—the bank served occasionally as a haven for tax evasion, money laundering, shady credit card manipulations and personal enrichment schemes.
Not long after assuming office, Pope Francis charged a committee of cardinals to reform the bank’s operations. Transparency is still not fully engrained in “God’s Bank.” Trust, as the saying goes, “is the coin of the realm.” If the “coin” is in doubt, the question arises: Can the Vatican Bank be truly reformed, or should it be shut down?
Caution: Offenses Ahead
It is puzzling that in a culture where curse words are common in conversation, print and film, and television sagas wallow in rape, decapitations and bloody murder, college reading lists are what some people are worried about. At several universities concerns are being expressed about passages that might offend or hurt students who have had negative experiences like those depicted in works commonly read in classes or by references to racism, classism, sexism and ableism. Some university faculties are being urged to publish “trigger warnings,” like those on some websites. The blog Kyriarchy & Privilege 101 lists the mention of corpses, needles, death, spiders, vomit, childbirth and slimy things as dangers that may require a warning.
Traumatic events can be relived through unforeseen encounters that reawaken the original trauma. Yet students must balance awareness of such triggers with the need to further their academic development. The difficulty is that literature is supposed to hold the mirror up to nature. We read to reflect on our own experiences and to experience the lives of others. We may read love stories that include sin and betrayal so that we may love more responsibly. We read stories of wars that we may suffer in some way with our fellow men and women and thus fight against war itself. To read a classic work with a warning label is to neutralize the author’s intent. To read Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” only after being warned that it is anti-Semitic is to miss the complexity in Shylock’s character: “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands? If you prick us, do we not bleed?” The challenge is there for students to grapple with.