Dear Rationalist Association… fix your petition, please! UPDATED

Update #2 – 15:20pm, 8 June 2012

The Rationalist Association have now updated their petition to reflect the information in this post and the discussion we had this morning, so the comments below are now moot other than serving as a record of the RA’s willingness to respond positively to constructive criticism.

So, a good show all around – now sign the petition folks…

Unity.

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It’s not that long ago that I wrote about the case of Indian skeptic Sanal Edmaraku who is sadly facing the possibility of a three year prison sentence for debunking a ‘weeping statue miracle’ at the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Good Health at Velankanni, which is the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Over the last day or so, an online petition has been launched by the Rationalist Association (UK), which has been publicised by both New Humanist and the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Ordinarily, it’s the kind of petition I’d support without any hesitation but, for the time being at least, it’s one that I cannot sign for the simple reason that it contains a couple of very basic factual errors.

Error no. 1 is to be found in the petition’s opening paragraph:

In March 2012, following his exposure of a supposed miracle at a Catholic Church in Mumbai as nothing more than the result of a leak, a complaint was lodged against Sanal Edamaruku by the local Catholic Archdiocese with the Mumbai police, who are now able to arrest him.

To date, there appear to have been three separate complaints lodged with the police by three Mumbai-based Catholic groups – the Catholic Secular Forum, the Association of Concerned Catholics and the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum. Although Agnelo Gracias, the auxiliary bishop of Mumbai, has made a number of public comments which suggest that he is broadly supportive of these complaints – and suffering from a bad case of butthurt – the complaints themselves have not been lodged by the Archdiocese.

Error no.2 follows quickly behind no 1 and, indeed, repeats no. 1 as well:

After one such exposure – he pointed out that the “blood” oozing from a statue of Christ at the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Velan Kanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai was in fact water from a leaky pipe – the Catholic Church of Mumbai made a formal complaint about him to the Mumbai police.

At no point has it been claimed that the liquid that was seeminging emanating from the statue was blood – every single report I’ve seen to date has been clear that it was water that was seemingly seeping from the statue, including a video report (in Hindi, I think), which sports the title ‘Jesus water dropping miracle in Mumbai – Sanal Edamaruku explains':

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Following his investigation, which appears to have been conducted at the invitation of an Indian TV station (TV-9), Sanal took part in a televised debate with the priest of the Velankanni church, Fr. Augustine Palett, and several representatives of the Association of Concerned Catholics, during which the AOCC reps appear to have threatened to file a blasphemy case against him. Again, video of this encounter is available via Youtube (mostly in Hindi, I think):

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Although petitioning the Bishop of Mumbai in the hope that he may prevail on these other organisations to drop their complaint is an eminent reasonable move, I can’t help thinking that, as things stand, its reception is likely to be compromised by these errors which rather serve to put the bishop directly in the frame despite their being no real evidence of any direct involvement on the part of the Archdiocese.

So please, can we get the facts straight here and amend the petition accordingly.

UPDATE 10:50 am, 8 June 2012

I’ve just had a quick chat with the good folks at the Rationalist Association/New Humanist and further inquiries are being made in an effort to clarify a few questions about the source of the complaints against Sanal, not least the role, if any, that the Archdiocese of Mumbai may or may not be playing. From what I understand, Sanal certainly feels that the organisations that are known to have lodged complaints may have been receiving encouragement, behind the scenes, from figures within the Diocese and this, I would agree, is with some justification given the comments made by the auxillary Bishop, Agnelo Gracias.

What is clear, to date, is that the Diocese have done nothing whatsoever to try to defuse the situation, despite expressing their own skepticism of the ‘weeping statue’, so the overall strategy of petitioning the Bishop rather than the small, semi-detached, pressure groups behind the actual complaints is perfectly sound.

With that in mind, I’ll be signing the petition and, of course, bunging a few quid in Sanal’s defence fund remains a sound move as well.