The Catholic Church in Kerala wants to have its own private force, the Gabriel Sena — it says it wants it for crowd control. The plan is to enlist retired military and para-military men, who will become “guardians of faith and warriors of ideals”. Many of the faithful, however, are wondering who this crowd is, that so scares the church. What are these “threats” to faith and ideals and how grave are they that the Church needs to rope in a private force? Could it be that the clergy feels under siege from the faithful themselves? In fact, in recent times, the laity has often been seen protesting against the clergy for what it perceives to be the latter’s deviation from Christian ideals.
Six decades ago, the Catholic Church had raised a similar private force, the Christopher Sena, to safeguard its interests when the then Communist government introduced laws to reform land tenure and the education sector. Then, the Church had feared that the CPI-led government would legislate for a state takeover of its educational institutions and land. At its peak in 1959, the Christopher Sena, interestingly inspired by Spanish religious groups that rallied for General Franco against the Republicans, had a membership of a lakh. The Church and the Christopher Sena were at the forefront of the direct action movement — “the Liberation Struggle” — that led to the dismissal of the CPI government by the Centre.
Much has changed in Kerala since, and Gabriel is no Christopher if initial responses to the formation of the Sena are any indication. The hold of the clergy on the laity has surely weakened since the 1950s. Not surprisingly, on Thursday, the Church, following public criticism, shelved a meeting of the Sena planned for November 15.