Moral Theology in India Today

National Workshop

Report by Shaji George

A national workshop, “Moral Theology in India Today,” was conducted at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram (DVK) from July 12-15, 2012, to reflect upon what directions moral theology in India is taking and how it should develop responding to the Indian situation, keeping its uniqueness but at the same time in dialogue with the global context. Beginning from the historical development of moral theology in India, an evaluation of the present, looking into the future was undertaken.

Though the workshop was organised on behalf of the department of moral theology of Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram (Pontifical Athenaeum of Philosophy, Theology and Canon Law, owned by Carmelites of Mary Immaculate – CMI), a planning committee consisting of moral theologians also from other institutions planned the details. Members of the Planning Committee: Rev. Dr Mathew Illathuparampil (St. Joseph Pontifical Seminary, Aluva), Rev. Dr Mathew Coutinho, SDB (Divyadan Institute, Nashik, Bombay), Rev. Dr Prem Xalxo, SJ (Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Roma), Rev. Dr Paulachan Kochappilly, CMI (DVK), Rev. Dr Shaji George Kochuthara, CMI (Convenor, DVK).

Moreover, the organisers worked in communication with Prof. Dr James F. Keenan, the Co-Chair of “Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church” and Lucas Chan, the Asian Regional Chair of CTEWC, both of whom were present for the workshop and presented papers.

Besides 24 moral theologians from different regions of India, four experts – one systematic theologian, one expert in Indian philosophy, one economist, one bioethicist – participated in the workshop and presented papers. Students pursuing licentiate and doctoral studies in Moral Theology at DVK also attended the workshop. All the participants were requested to send in advance the complete text (6000-7000 words) of the papers to be presented. Before the presentation at the workshop, the papers were sent for peer-review. The complete text of all the papers were distributed to all the participants. Each session had 1 hour 30 minutes, in which two papers were presented in 50 minutes, and the remaining time was taken for discussion.

The workshop began on July 12th morning with a short inaugural session. In his inaugural address, Fr Saju Chackalackal, CMI, the President of DVK pointed out that we cannot be complacent and claim that moral theology is settled for ever, but should continue to work knowing that it should evolve in its attempt to grapple with the ever unfolding human reality. He indicated five basic foundations for doing moral theology in India: 1. Centrality of Encounter with and Faith in the Person of Jesus Christ, 2. Openness to the Ongoing Revelation of God in the Bible and in the World, 3. Faithfulness to the Guidance Offered by the Christian Community, 4. Importance of Family in Nurturing Values and Practising Virtues, and 5. Sensitivity to the Socio-Religio-Political Realities of India. Fr Clement Campos, CSsR, the President of the Association of Moral Theologians of India opined that in our theological expositions we often fail to sufficiently incorporate an important source of moral wisdom and discernment, namely, human experience. According to him, of all the experiences, the one that is most relevant to moral theology is the experience of suffering. Theological ethics should respond to suffering with compassion, rooted in the virtue of solidarity. In the opening session, Fr Stephen Fernandes remembered the contributions of Fr Soosai Arokiasamy, SJ, who died on 20 April 2012.

Session 1 had two papers, “Theologizing in India: Trends and Methods” by Fr Kuncheria Pathil, CMI, a well known systematic theologian and “Moral Theology in India: A Historical Perspective” by Fr Thomas Srampickal, one of the senior moral theologians of India. Kuncheria Pathil said that theologizing is an incarnational process, resulting from a historical encounter between the Gospel and the socio-cultural matrix of the different peoples. Hence, it is important to know our country, our people and our problems, if we want to bring the Good News to them. Inequality, injustice, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and lack of health care are glaring realities and evils of our country. He invited moral theologians to break from its traditional casuistry and legalism, and become a tool to liberate people and help them to have life in its fullness. Thomas Srampickal told that besides the regional and cultural diversity, the presence of three individual Churches introduces certain complexities in the analysis of the historical development of moral theology in India. According to him, in the Post-Vatican II period, though moral theology in India began to get out of its slumber and resigned-mentality, it has not yet made an appreciable impact on the Indian theological horizon or created an ‘Indian moral theological ethos’. We need to evolve a common moral vision and approach focusing on major issues like social justice. He also presented a survey of the articles and books published by Indian moral theologians.

The second session, “Context” focussed on the developments in Catholic theological ethics in the world Church and especially in Asia. In his “Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Today,” James F. Keenan, SJ presented four foundational themes that invite our attention worldwide: love, natural law, virtue, and biblical ethics. Referring extensively to the writings of moral theologians, he delineated the developing perspectives in these areas, and thus in moral theology today. Keenan concluded by pointing out that, we need a better theology of sin. Yiu Sing Lúcás Chan began his essay “Doing Catholic Theological Ethics: Some Reflections on the Asian Scenario” with a positive note, that it is encouraging to see that in the past few years, the desire for doing Catholic theological ethics in Asian contexts continues to advance among Asian Catholic writers in an explicit and systematic way. These attempts are also facilitated and promoted by sympathetic moral theologians in the West. He specially appreciated the contribution of Jim Keenan, SJ in this regard. As recent developments in Asia, which deserve our attention, Lúcás Chan points out, 1. Comparative theological ethics, 2. Scripture-based theological ethics, and 3. Feminist theological ethics.

In the third session, “Eastern Perspectives,” Fr Paulachan Kochappilly, CMI and Sr Kochuthresia Puliappally, OSS presented the moral theological vision of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches respectively. Both the papers pointed out that the locus theologicus for Easterners is the liturgy and tried to develop ethical perspectives based on the liturgical celebration. Kochappilly, on the basis of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, focussed on three themes, namely, 1. Celebration as relation of life; 2. Celebration as reconciliation of life; and 3. Celebration as transformation of life. Kochuthresia, based on the celebration of sacraments and sacramentals in the Syro-Malankara Church, explored the relationship between liturgical spirituality and virtue ethics.

Fr Subhash Anand, an expert in Indian philosophy, beginning with the dilemma that an interreligious and intercultural moral theology faces today in the context of globalization and post-modenism, pointed out in his paper, “Moral Theology in an Inter-Cultural and Inter-Religious Context”, that an intercultural and interreligious approach will help us move from specifically ‘Roman Catholic moral theology’ to truly ‘Catholic’ moral theology. He explained how some of the Indian concepts like dharma, satya, varnas and the four āśramas could be helpful in developing an interreligious and intercultural moral theology. In the following session, two young moral theologians, Fr Baiju Julian and Fr Stanislaus Alla, SJ, continued the discussion on interreligious and intercultural moral theology. Beginning with an appreciation of the ethical teachings of the major religions of India, so as to understand their spiritual wealth, Baiju Julian in his paper “Christian Ethics: Inter-Religious Perspectives” proceeded to the distinctive aspects of Christian ethics. Following this he discussed the impact of Christian ethics on Indian society and the significance of interreligious dialogue for an ethical convergence. In his paper, “Structural and Policy Support for Offering Health Care in India – Lessons from History,” Stanislaus Alla attempted to facilitate Catholic bioethicists to engage with their Hindu counterparts, learning from their religious traditions, and to collaboratively work for common causes founded on the principles of equality and dignity, justice and love.

In the next session, “In Search of a Common Denominator for a Contextualised Theological Ethics: An Apperception on Asian, Western and African Theological Ethics” by Fr Paul Chummar Chittilappilly, CMI underscored the importance of contextualised theological ethics, but at the same time proposed the need of a common denominator for ethical reflection. Fr Mathew Illathuparampil’s “Role of Imagination in Moral Reasoning” tried to explain the scope of imagination in moral reasoning, as a non-discursive tool. Beginning with an analysis of the scope of non-discursive approaches in Christian ethics, he proposed ‘Kingdom of God’ as an icon of imagination.

Fr Saji Mathew Kanayankal, CST and Fr Prem Xalxo, SJ addressed two important ethical concerns. “Where Do We G(Row)O?: A Critique on ‘Development’ from an Ecological and Ethical Perspective” by Kanayankal called for a reconsideration of the concept of development in the face of the ecological crisis that we face. He emphasised that sustainability in production and consumption has become the need of the hour. “New Media Landscape and Prevalent Ethical Issues” by Prem Xalxo pointed out that “the new media landscape has worked wonders in day-to-day life giving new meaning to human life, existence and interpersonal relationships transforming the world into a global village, so much so that living even for a few moments cut off from the network of networks seems to be unimaginable.” According to Xalxo, the need of the hour is not to draw guidelines to indicate what is good and what is bad in the new media landscape, bur to indicate how to live well the life connected to Internet and to inculcate the sense of productivity, creativity, virtue of sharing and living in communion with others whether in virtual or in real world.

As a reflection of the profound awareness among moral theologians of the problems like poverty, injustice, inequality, corruption that the Indian society faces today, there were five papers on social, political and economic issues. Prof. Victor Louis Anthuvan, a well-known economist, with supporting data, portrayed the myth of development at the cost of the poor. Fr Charles Irudayam, besides expounding the concept of justice in the Catholic tradition and the Indian theologians’ reflections on justice, presented the Hindu approach to justice. In spite of some differences in the approaches, according to him, both these traditions can be made use to bring about a just society. “Concern over Corruption: A Theological-Ethical Analysis” by Fr John Chathanatt, SJ was a fitting response from an Indian moral theologian to the cancer of corruption, especially in the context of people’s movement against corruption, following a number of corruption cases involving billions of rupees. Fr Patrick Xavier pointed out the need of living the ideals of equality and community, solidarity and democracy in ecclesial communities as well as in democratic states. In his paper, “Ethics And Indian Politics,” he argued that, “a theology of the Church to the world in societies like India cannot be constructed solely by the Church without having effective and politically significant dialogue with other world-views” though the Church has to play its role in building up a just society. “Civil Society: The Foundation For Ethics In Politics” by Fr George Kodithottam, SJ argued that the existence of a well developed civil society is a necessary condition for the ethical conduct of politics in any nation state and ensuring justice for all its citizens. Discussing different concepts of civil society, Kodithottam considers Gandhian view of civil society as more suitable for India, and to remedy the representational deficiency in Indian democracy. The civil society, for him, is not a substitute for the elected bodies, but it is an independent space where the needs and vision of people are pursued and mould political consciousness.

There were two sessions (four papers) each on ‘Sexuality, Gender and Family’ and ‘Healthcare Ethics’. In “Gendered Perspectives in India: Stratification or Substantiation of Human Dignity?” Sr Vimala Chenginimattam, CMC, observed that, “Some way or other, majority of the Indian women folk have internalized inferior self-images as part of genderization.” Signs of changes are there, but gender discrimination is still deep rooted. She also boldly pointed out that the Catholic Church is not an exception to this. Fr Matthew Coutinho, SDB opined that the life-style of the Indian society is undergoing drastic changes and this has negative impact on the Indian family. In his paper “Promoting Marital Fidelity in Family Life – Challenges in Society Today” he suggested practical ways to promote marital fidelity and opined that social institutions also have an important role in fortifying marital harmony and fidelity. Fr Stephen Fernandes attempted to show the relevance of Humanae Vitae for our times. His paper “Understanding Humanae Vitae And Its Challenges For India” delineated the changing patterns of life in the Indian society and the continuing importance of the teaching of this important encyclical. In his paper, “Sexuality: Changing Perspective,” Shaji George Kochuthara, CMI invited the attention of the participants to reports of some recent surveys, which depict changing patterns in sexual values and behaviour of the Indian society. He did not agree with the usual argument that the West is responsible for this, but pointed out that changes in the value perception of the Indian society itself is the reason behind this. He emphasised the need of a radical change in the Church’s attitude to sexuality and of engaging in open and creative dialogue with today’s culture. There was also the presentation of the report of a field study conducted by the Licentiate moral theology students of DVK on ‘Transgender’, inviting the attention of the participants to the plight of transgender persons in the socio-cultural context of India, reminding us of the limits of our analysis and answers in the face of the mysteries of life and actual suffering and discrimination those people experience.

Following these, there were two sessions (four papers) on healthcare ethics. Prof. Dr Mario Vaz (St John’s Medical College, Bangalore), in his paper, “Ethical Challenges in Healthcare and Medical Research in India,” highlighted the huge disparity in the availability of healthcare facilities in India. For example, even today, nearly 30% of pregnant women in India give birth to low-birth weight babies. Infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS continue to be large problems. He emphasised the need of incorporating the teaching of medical and health ethics in the curriculum of health professionals. Continuing the discussion, “Health Care in India: A Few Contemporary Challenges” by Fr Lucose Chamakala, CMI pointed out that, “One of the most important tasks before the Indian government is to ensure and enhance the realization of the right to health and to health care for all Indians.” Chamakala specially highlighted the healthcare needs of the Adivasis and the old people in India. Fr Scaria Kanniyakonil, the secretary of the Association of Moral Theologians of India, proposed the integration of laws and virtues as an adequate model for Indian bioethics, which is suitable for the religious as well as the nonreligious groups in India. In his paper, “The Integration of Virtues and Laws in Indian Bioethics” he suggested that the integration of virtue of charity with laws can be an adequate ethical model for the health care industry in India. Fr John Karuvelil, SJ dealt with a complex ethical issue that the Indian society is facing, namely, elective abortions. His paper “Dignity of Women and Elective Abortions in India: An Ethical Reflection” presented the seriousness of the issue with the support of data. In 2004 sex-selective pre-natal determination tests were criminalized in India. However, today there are over 40,000 registered ultrasound clinics in the country, and many more exist without any record. According to surveys, there is an average of 557,000 abortions of female foetuses a year. Evidently, this is a clear case of killing of millions of innocent lives. Some other consequences of sex-selective abortions are demographic variations, gender discrimination and commodification of women, commercialization of sex determination technology and so on.

The papers were well-prepared, the discussions were alive and insightful. The participants were satisfied of the outcome. The workshop brought together Indian moral theologians, determined to study and learn, enthusiastic about writing and publishing and committed to work together. Many proposed to organise a conference within two years, inviting as many moral theologians as possible. This proposed conference could be also a preparation for the Asian level conference that CTEWC is planning in 2015. The planning committee was expanded incorporating Sr Vimala Chenginimattam, CMC. Moreover, it was proposed that besides publishing the papers of the workshop, within a year we should think about publishing an edited work on the historical development of moral theology in India.

Something to be specially mentioned is the impact of the CTEWC conferences held at Padova and Trento. These conferences have given inspiration to moral theologians worldwide to work together, both globally as well as at the local level. This workshop is an example. Though this was organised independently, I should say that we owe much to CTEWC, and specially to Jim Keenan, for the great enthusiasm that he has created in moral theologians throughout the world. Through Jim Keenan and Lucas Chan, CTEWC was actively present at this workshop and their papers and presence contributed a lot to the success of the workshop.

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