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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) Pope Francis' encyclical Fratelli Tutti is facing criticism for condemning racism and nationalism while praising Mahatma Gandhi, despite recent revelations of the Indian nationalist's racist attitudes to South African blacks and his admiration for the caste system.
The controversial encyclical also extols Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu as Francis' inspiration, even though Tutu is pro-LGBT and pro-euthanasia — two sins the Catholic Church unequivocally condemns as "intrinsic evils."
Francis climaxes his encyclical on "universal fraternity" remarking how he "felt inspired" also "by others of our brothers and sisters who are not Catholics: Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and many more."
The pontiff's uncritical praise for Gandhi has angered Indian Catholics from a Dalit (untouchable) caste background, especially in the light of recent demands from anti-racist campaigners to remove statues of Gandhi for his "well-documented anti-black racism."
Indian Booker prizewinner Arundhati Roy slams Gandhi's "inexcusable position on caste and race" — calling the Hindu caste system "one of the most brutal modes of hierarchal social organization that human society has known."
Gandhi, "the most famous Indian in the world" believed "caste represented the genius of Indian society," writes Roy in The Doctor and the Saint: Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste.
Roy quotes Gandhi's words in his Gujarati journal Navajivan:
I believe that if Hindu society has been able to stand, it is because it is founded on the caste system ... To destroy caste system and adopt Western European social system means that Hindus must give up the principle of hereditary occupation which is the soul of the caste system ... I am opposed to all those who are out to destroy the caste system.
Speaking to Church Militant, theologian and cultural critic Fr. Athanasius St. Michel commented on "the striking difference between the pope and anti-racism campaigners in their analysis of Gandhi."
"Gandhi was at one and the same time a prophetic and morally complex man. Anti-racism activists denounced him as a racist. And the pope, less well-informed than Black Lives Matter and ignoring the serious and complex flaws in his character, has promoted him to the status of a secular saint," said Fr. Athanasius, speaking from his retreat center in northern France.
South African university professors Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed explore how, during Gandhi's stay in Africa, he adopted attitudes bordering on Apartheid towards black Africans calling them "savages" and striving to keep Indians separate from the native "kaffirs."
In the book The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire, published by Stanford University Press, the authors' seven-year research project documents multiple examples of Gandhi's racism.
"About the mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly," Gandhi wrote to a health officer in Johannesburg in 1904 saying he "must withdraw Kaffirs" from the "Coolie Location" slum where a large number of Africans lived alongside Indians.
In his battle against separate entrances for whites and blacks at the Durban post office, Gandhi demanded a separate entrance for Indians, objecting to Indians being "classed with the [black] natives of South Africa."
"I venture to point out that both the English and the Indians spring from a common stock, called the Indo-Aryan," Gandhi wrote in an open letter to the Natal Parliament in 1893.
Desai told BBC Delhi:
Gandhi believed in the Aryan brotherhood. This involved whites and Indians higher up than Africans on the civilized scale. To that extent he was a racist. To the extent that he wrote Africans out of history or was keen to join with whites in their subjugation, he was a racist. [If he had succeeded] as an accomplice of colonial subjugation in South Africa [we] would have been culpable in the horrors of Apartheid.
In fighting injustice, Gandhi created an exclusivist nationalist Indian identity by "taking up 'Indian' issues in ways that cut Indians off from Africans," write Desai and Vahed.
In 1939, Gandhi announced: "However much one may sympathize with the Bantus, Indians cannot make common cause with them."
A Rome-based Dalit Catholic writer told Church Militant she was aghast that Pope Francis had decided to include in his encyclical "a controversial non-Catholic who repeatedly rejected the Lord Jesus Christ and ultimately believed in the supremacy of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) even though he was repeatedly presented with the gospel."
"We untouchables from India have suffered the tyranny of Brahminical Hinduism for 3,000 years. Some of us ultimately found refuge in Christianity; others in Buddhism and Islam. Gandhi adopted a very clever strategy calling us 'Harijans' (children of Hari — i.e., Krishna) to patronize us and keep us separate."
"To name Gandhi as an inspiration in an encyclical on 'fraternity' — when he so clearly contradicts the very essence of brotherhood by his belief in caste, race and narrow nationalism, discredits Fratelli Tutti," the Indian writer observed.
"At the very best, it shows how poorly informed Pope Francis is — and if he is so illiterate on such a critical issue, how do we know he's got it right on other matters?" she asked.
Gandhi's instrumentalization of women to test his resolve on achieving celibacy (brahmacharya) has also been the subject of debate. After his wife died in 1944, Gandhi began sharing his bed with naked young women: Dr. Sushila Nayyar, his physician, and his grandnieces Abha and Manu — who were in their late teens.
Indian women writers like Rita Banerji are calling Gandhi "a classic example of a sexual predator — a man who uses his position of power to manipulate and sexually exploit the people he directly controls."
"The pope's adoption of Desmond Tutu as a figure of virtue is no less problematic," Fr. Athanasius remarked.
"Tutu's espousal of a homosexual lifestyle as a Christian virtue ought to cause the pope to think carefully about giving him a platform as a modern Christian icon. But tragically it hasn't," the theologian lamented.
At a 2004 sermon in Southwark Cathedral, London, Tutu preached:
Churches say the expression of love in a heterosexual, monogamous relationship includes the physical — the touching, embracing, kissing, the genital act; the totality of our love makes each of us grow to become increasingly godlike and compassionate. If this is so for the heterosexual, what earthy reasons have we to say that it is not the case with the homosexual?
Tutu has said he would rather go to Hell than worship a homophobic God. At the launch of the Free and Equal campaign in Cape Town, he declared: "I would refuse to go to a homophobic Heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place."
Tutu also strongly favors euthanasia, saying: "The dying should have the right to choose how and when to leave Mother Earth."
In 2016, Tutu's daughter Mpho Tutu, who is an Anglican priestess, "married" Marceline van Furth in a lesbian civil wedding in the Netherlands. Both women are divorced and have children from previous marriages. Van Furth, an atheist, is a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Vrije University in Amsterdam.