A group of Catholic priests in the Poona Diocese have accused the Bishop Thomas Dabre of functioning in an arbitrary manner, with “little regard for internal democracy”. The murmurs of discontent have become stronger since the Bishop reportedly issued transfer orders to as many as 27 priests from churches in Pune district a couple of months ago. To register their protest, some of the Parish priests have refused to follow the transfer orders.
Bishop Dabre has denied the charges against him. “Not only do I deny the charges levelled against me, but I find them to be false,” he said. The Bishop also said he was ready to meet the priests who have complaints against him and discuss all the issues.
According to the priests, the Bishop had asked them to comply with the transfer orders by May 30. Some of these priests alleged that their transfers showed “lack of sympathy of the Bishop towards those suffering from various ailments”. They said despite repeated pleas, the Bishop refused to cancel the transfer orders, which forced them to approach higher authorities.
However, they claimed that they “failed to get justice” from the authorities, and have fallen into a state of depression.
Father William Fernandes of the Khadki church said he was transferred to Our Lady of Fatima Church in Chakan, despite the fact that he was over 70 years old and a diabetic. “I am not in a position to travel to Chakan, which is 25-30 km away from the city.,” he said.
Father Fernandes said when he tried to get his transfer order cancelled and sought a transfer to a nearby church, the Bishop refused to heed his pleas. “I have been forthright and frank in giving my views, opinions and suggestions in priests’ council meetings. The Bishop doesn’t like that. He has been constantly demanding apologies and causing me mental agony,” alleged Father Fernandes. “I have even refused to accept the transfer orders…therefore, I have been told to go the clergy home, which is meant for retired priests,” he added.
Another priest, Father Albert Fernandes, said has was transferred to Miraj in Sangli district from Hadapsar church, but he refused to accept the transfer orders and went on a year-long leave. “I requested that I be allotted a church in the city, not one in Sangli district, due to health reasons. But the Bishop didn’t accept my request.” “The Bishop doesn’t listen to anyone . Those who are in his good books are given favourable postings. Those who speak up or freely express their views are punished.,” he added.
Father George DSouza, who was the Vicar General to the Bishop, accused the latter of being “undemocratic”. “He keeps repeating that he is the Bishop and everyone should obey his orders. This is a dictatorial attitude,” said Father DSouza, who retired five years ago.’
William Naidu, an activist from the Catholic community, claimed that of the 75-80 priests in the Poona Diocese, at least 35 “were not happy because of the way the Bishop had treated them”.
On the allegation of arbitrary transfers, Bishop Dabre said as far as he knew, only one priest had complained of ill health. “I have told him that we will take care of his health, as we always do,” he said. Speaking on the long leave taken by another priest, the Bishop said the priest had asked for a sabbatical and had been granted permission to take one.