The Kissinger Cables, a cache of US diplomatic cables released earlier this week by WikiLeaks, reveal that the erstwhile Indira Gandhi government acted tough against Catholic bodies for resisting the compulsory sterilisation programme.
According to a November 12, 1976 cable sent from New Delhi to the Department of State, India imposed strict conditions on appointment of bishops in the country after they opposed the mass sterilisation drive. The cable says Cardinal Picachy confirmed to a consular officer that the Catholic Church was continuing to have difficulties with the government regarding the appointment of bishops and their senior clergy members. According to the website catholic-hierarchy.org, Picachy was born in 1916 and was appointed the archbishop of Kolkata in May 1969 and later elevated as a cardinal in May 1976.
“Within the last 30 days, MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) Vatican desk officer (Gokale) had presented to the Vatican representative in New Delhi a draft of a diplomatic note on which comments were requested. The note had three basic points.
All appointments to Vicar general, heads of bishops, archbishops, cardinals and directors of schools were to be sent to the GOI (Government of India) at least two months in advance of announcement. All appointments must have the full consent of the Government of India before being announced and the appointments be Indian nationals.” When queried why India was raising this matter now, he said he didn’t know but had to assume that it was “because of the Church’s successful stand against compulsory sterilisation.”
The cable adds, quoting Picachy, that the 99 per cent of Catholics would stand behind the Church if the appointments were announced without the government’s approval but the Church would eventually have to suffer consequences. Picachy told the US diplomat that they were trying to delay a reply to the government till the annual meeting of Catholic bishops. He said the matter of ‘full consent’ in posting bishops was non-negotiable and the Church could not agree to it.