Theologians Meet to Reflect on India's Moral Issues

Article excerpt

BANGALORE, INDIA * Thirty Indian scholars and invited guests reflected on the state of moral theology in India at a July seminar here. The national workshop addressed a host of issues: corruption, health care, poverty, politics, interreligious dialogue, the Internet, gender and sexuality, and economics.

Carmelite of Mary Immaculate Fr. Shaji George Kochuthara hosted the workshop, which was titled "Moral Theology in India Today," held July 12-15.

Besides the leading moralists in India today, four other nationally recognized scholars were invited: an economist, a public health leader, a theologian and a philosopher. All were tied to the same common interest, to articulate the basic moral and ethical concerns and challenges facing India today.

Redemptorist Fr. Clement Campos, president of the Association of Moral Theologians of India, opened the conference, inviting participants to ask themselves whether their work sufficiently assisted the needs of everyday India. His words echoed throughout the conference.

Health care was a recurring theme during the four days. Jesuit Fr. Stanislaus Alla presented a paper on the history of health care in India starting with the initiatives of Buddhist monasteries 23 centuries ago and continuing on with Hindus, Muslims and Christians integrating health care into their religious services.

Dr. Mario Vaz and Carmelite of Mary Immaculate Fr. Lucose Chamakala presented the enormous challenges facing health care in India today: from a universal lack of standard ethical oversight, to the rising ranks of physicians looking for more economically attractive positions in highly specialized services coupled with the daunting needs of the emerging geriatric population.

These papers were followed by an even more sobering one on female feticide by Jesuit Fr. John Karuvelil. Though sex-selective prenatal determination tests are banned in India, there are more than 40,000 ultrasound clinics. An estimated 557,000 female fetuses are aborted each year. Karuvelil explained that the abortions highlight how poorly women fare in India, which ranks 113th out of 130 on gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum. At one point, after remarking that India has prohibited the practice of dowry, passing laws in 1961, 1983 and 1985, he explained how dowry, still a common practice, only exacerbates the poor status of women.

Karuvelil's paper concretized the claims of an earlier one by Congregation of the Mother of Carmel Sr. Vimala Chenginimattam. Calling for a "gender-sensitive church," she spoke about the challenges women face in bringing about that sensitivity. While noting that some "so-called women representatives in the parishes or dioceses have no gender consciousness and are like dolls in the hands of authority," those who do speak up "are labeled as antichurch and often marginalized or silenced." She concluded, "Gender equity can be reached only when men think that gender inequality is their crisis too."

Other papers on gender and sexuality were also discussed at the conference. Kochuthara presented a variety of reports on contemporary India that manifested "a more sexually carnivorous urban Indian willing to break taboos and boundaries." One participant objected that this was no more than the influence of "Western values," but Kochuthara insisted that these were not Westerners who were revolting against sexual standards but Indians. He concluded by arguing for a sexual ethics for the "actual lived experiences of the Indian people."

Against the disparities of wealth and class, participants raised concerns for the common good and the civil society of India. The secretary of the Office for Justice, Peace and Development for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, Fr. …