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Priest takes poll plunge

Ranchi, Feb. 8: A Roman Catholic priest, Albinus Murmu, has stirred the Church by deciding to contest the Assembly elections from Shikaripara in Santhal Parganas.

Murmu has filed his papers on a United Goan Democratic Party ticket. Fr Murmu, attached to the Dumka parish, is the second Catholic priest in the country to have decided to join the electoral fray in the long history of the Roman Catholic Church in India.

Earlier in 1977, a priest in Karnataka, Fr Joseph, had filed his nomination papers from the Belgaum Lok Sabha seat on a Janata Party ticket. To the consternation of the church, he had won the election by a handsome margin.

The church, while expressing its anguish over the 'break in discipline' had issued a diktat to Joseph to resign from his membership and return to his priestly ways.

For over two years, the priest had defied the church directives and was suspended for defying the canon law. Later, however, Fr Joseph quit his Lok Sabha membership and returned to the church and was forgiven.

Confirming that Fr Murmu had filed his nomination papers from the Shikaripara Assembly seat, the Bishop of Dumka, Julius Marandi told The Telegraph that the errant priest had defied the cannon law by his decision to contest the polls. He stressed that catholic priests, fathers, brothers, nuns, sisters etc, who have taken the holy oath to serve God are forbidden to stand for any election.

'I have spoken to Murmu and have asked him to withdraw immediately. I have also written a formal letter to Murmu advising him to withdraw or face disciplinary action,' the bishop of Dumka said.

Explaining the Roman Catholic Church's code of conduct, Rector of St. Albert's College, Ranchi, Fr C.R. Prabhu, told The Telegraph that the church's cannon law, which governs the way of life of all priests, allows them to undertake education including political education of the people at large and exhorts them to be of complete service to all faithfuls.

'The cannon law provides that the arms of the Roman Catholic Church devote themselves for the unification of the people at large. Standing in elections means choosing one political party or ideology to the complete exclusion of others and implies division of the people. Therefore, contesting polls and creating a division among the people is forbidden,' Prabhu emphasised.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo, too condemned the decision of Fr Murmu. It was un-priestly for Murmu to file his nomination papers, he said.

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