Why I think Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto has committed one more grave blunder

The one thing that he should not have done is to have loaned out himself to this factory of misrepresentation.

 |  5-minute read |   24-05-2018
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I was shocked, to put it mildly, to see Archbishop Anil Couto, on a talk show, lending himself, quite naively, to validating a contrived controversy about the innocuous, even if theologically simplistic, pastoral letter he sent to his congregations. He was, to make matters worse, complemented by the redoubtable John Dayal.

The singular misfortune of the Catholic church is that it has a man-for-all-seasons like John. Only he knows what he says and why he says what he does. But it serves the purpose quite admirably; for the anchor was not interested in what he had to say, but only in what he should not be allowed to say, which is now becoming the norm rather than the exception.

The TV anchor knew only too well that there was no real issue with the Archbishop’s pastoral letter. But he was on an assignment. He had to morph the toothless thing into a snarling tiger. I do concede he did a competent job of it. But watching him achieve what he did was an uneasy and awkward thing; for it does no good to your soul to see a fellow human being trying, with evident signs of stretching himself to the limits of his ingeniousness, to seduce himself into believing that a bottle of goat’s milk is a Molotov cocktail.

The one thing that Archbishop Couto should not have done, if he had a particle of common sense in him (which is purely optional) is to have lent or loaned out himself to this factory of misrepresentation. And that, for several reasons.

archbishop_052218031_052418060717.jpgImage: Twitter/@ArchbishopDelhi

First, he is simply not a TV personality. He looked evidently inadequate and out of his depth. Even if the anchor had not made any special effort to make him look a spectral simulacrum (which he did), he would have succeeded effortlessly.

Second, no useful purpose could have been served by walking into what, even an elementary school kid knows these days, is not meant to do any good or justice to anyone. He walked, not into the lion’s den, but into a biased media den, where neither truth nor justice counts, only hard-selling of propaganda does.

Third, he insulted his authority and lowered the dignity of his office by doing so. What did the Archbishop hope to achieve by "making an appearance" in the company of these hotheads? To justify his action? To whom? What for? Did he have to?

All religious actions are, to some extent, esoteric. How can you justify the eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) in a TV talk-show? A TV anchor has a mountain of advantage over an Archbishop in such an exercise, precisely because he knows nothing about the meaning or about the mechanism of the sacrament. Invincible ignorance, and absolute freedom from any spiritual sensitivity, invest the anchor with an inordinate advantage. The poor Archbishop, even if he were to be a Demosthenes or Seneca, is bound to look a bit of a stammering simpleton.

I hope that this experience has taught Archbishop Cuto that it is stupid to bestir himself to do what is absolutely superfluous. He owed no explanation to a TV anchor, especially to one who was least interested in understanding what he had to say. The more he tried to "explain" himself or to "defend" his action, the more he played himself into the script of the anchor. 

The droll thing is that Couto owes no explanation to any TV anchor regarding anything he does. Only the law enforcing agencies have the right to obtain an explanation from the Archbishop. But they are in a state of deafening silence; for they know that no impropriety of any kind is involved and the Archbishop has not fallen foul of any law of the land.

That was why the TV anchor had to pump up him imagination to manufacture an aura of offence around the Archbishop’s bland action. It was said of the American poet, Robert Frost, that he had the ability to discover enemies where none existed. Some of our TV anchors are an improvement on Frost. They discover offences in innocuous statements and routine actions. They can make you feel, when ordered to so do, guilty about smiling even at your own children.

If you’ve watched the war of wills between churlish children and their parents, you will get my sense quite readily. In most such situations, the parents lose; not because the children are right or rational, but precisely because they are churlish, obstinate and infantile. No wise parent will, or should, enter into a war of wills with tantrum-throwing, churlish children. The more he tries to reason it out with them, the less he succeeds, and the more he validates the tantrums of the child. If you are not convinced, I can do no better than refer you (and Archbishop Couto) to Hannah Arendt’s superb essay titled "Authority".

Archbishop Couto is a lamb among lions, if he is put in the company of the Hindutva motormouths who, emboldened by their priestly attire, mouth sentiments that are hard to reproduce. By now we have come to accept that as normal. As wisecracks say about sexually perverse youths, “Boys are boys, after all.” You must expect such things from them. So, there is no scope for indignation or surprise.

There is, therefore, a silver-lining on this cloud of the TV talk-show that showcased the Archbishop as a communal bigot. The disproportionate indignation that the TV anchor expressed is an unwitting compliment. The "offence" derives its traction from the fact that the society keeps, even today, an Archbishop on a high pedestal. Therefore, even a slight and seeming deviation on his part from exalted standards surprises. This is very valid and is to be appreciated as quite fair.

Also read: Loch Ness monster: Why we can't let science kill mystery

Writer

Valson Thampu Valson Thampu

The writer is former principal of St Stephen's College, Delhi and former member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI).

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