CPM, church in rites row

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By JOHN MARY in Thiruvananthapuram
  • Published 14.10.07

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 14: Relations between the Catholic Church and the CPM have hit a new low in Kerala, with the two locking horns over a bishop’s claim that a Marxist legislator had received the “last rites” before his death last year.

CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, while marking the first death anniversary of Mathai Chacko in Kozhikode yesterday, condemned Bishop Mar Paul Chittilapally’s statement that the MLA had received the Christian sacrament in his hospital bed in Kochi before succumbing to cancer.

Last rites are administered to the sick in the Catholic Church for divine intercession to absolve them of sins.

Marxists are atheists and shun religious rituals.

Vijayan said the bishop’s claim was an attempt “to denigrate a true communist even in death”. He accused Chittilapally of doing the “dirty work” for the Opposition United Democratic Front.

Referring to the bishop’s reported disclosure that Chacko had received the sacrament from a priest when he was “fully conscious”, Vijayan said: “A person slips out of his senses when he takes a few sips (of alcohol). I don’t know whether this guy (Chittilapally) has that habit.”

The bishop has, however, denied saying the MLA was “conscious” when he received the sacrament. He clarified that when he visited Chacko in hospital, he had sought his blessings and accepted a rosary. Later, Chacko’s relatives requested the bishop to administer the last rites.

Father Jose Kottayil, the secretary of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, confirmed in Kochi today that on Chittilapally’s instructions, he had administered the last rites to Chacko in the presence of doctors, but the patient was “unconscious”.

Chacko’s brother M. Thomas said the MLA had not sought the sacrament “either knowingly or unknowingly”.

“None of the family members, including his wife, Mercy Chacko, had requested it. It’s painful that anyone should try to raise such issues even before we have got over the tragedy,” Thomas said.

Various church organisations have come out against Vijayan’s statement. Several dioceses took out rallies after the Sunday Mass.

Opposition leader Oommen Chandy condemned Vijayan’s statement, saying it was not expected of a leader of a political party.

The last communist to have allegedly received the last sacrament was Joseph Mundassery, who was a minister in the Namboodiripad cabinet. His relatives had, however, said it was an act of “mischief” by some nuns and priests after the minister had slipped into a coma.