This is a guest post by Eva du Monteil, a freelance writer.
“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” is a quotation that isn’t actually in the Bible, but that would actually be quite fitting in the case of the six severely deluded Bangladeshi men who were arrested for allegedly beating a woman to death in the name of “releasing her from an evil spirit” inside a local Catholic Church.
An investigation is in process, but the details circulating in the media so far are pretty much what you’d expect when misguided zealots take matters in their own hands.
According to UCA News, family members and relatives of 60-year-old Fulmoni Mardi took her to the church after she complained about an illness; other villagers had praised the healing powers of the people there.
But once inside St. John Mary Vianney Church, Mardi was beaten to death.
“People say this group had an apparition of Mother Mary and Jesus and had the power to heal sick people,” said Philip Hembrom, 30, husband of Mardi’s daughter.
“My mother-in-law had been suffering from a bad headache for the past few days and we thought they might be able to cure her. But they have murdered her,” Hembrom added.
Jeez, what happened to going to a doctor or taking an Advil to release that pain? Nope. Turns out the only professionals you should seek remedy from are the ones who can cure the demon within.
Considering that the local parish priest, Father Michael Corraya, “backed the shaman group” and acknowledged that he “partially” believed in their healing powers, it’s no wonder the family thought the woman was in good hands.
Corraya tried his best to wash his hands of the situation, claiming that he was asleep when the witch doctors penetrated his church, but that’s not nearly as dumbfounding as the rest of his excuse:
“I have heard from people that they were healing people, because we do use charismatic prayers and Holy Water to heal sick people. But I never thought these people would go to such extremes,” said Father Corraya.
Maybe the priest should have kept his mouth shut after saying he overslept.
Another local Church leader attempted to downplay the importance of the Catholic Church in this sordid affair and did his best to put things in a broader perspective (read: transfer the blame to somebody else).
Father Harun Hembrom, secretary of the diocesan Justice and Peace Commission in Rajshahi and a tribal Santal himself, believes that Catholicism is actually doing a lot of good to help people shy away from barbaric beliefs:
“Before converting to Christianity, tribal people were mostly Hindus and had strong belief in superstitions. The Church has been consistently trying to eradicate these beliefs with awareness-building courses, seminars and sermons, but they still exist,” said Father Hembrom.
“Elderly tribal Catholics still have strong faith in traditional beliefs, and they are often inspired by non-Christians. It will take years and generations to change and to eliminate such harmful practices,” the priest added.
Not so fast! Didn’t the Church also condone the Inquisition a couple of centuries ago? And weren’t the deaths of at least tens of thousands of women justified by the “Holy” Bible itself? (Spoiler: Yes.)
The Church leaders can’t be surprised if their followers are a bit confused!
And considering that “exorcist” was, until 1973, a viable career choice within the Church (and still practiced by underground Catholic priests today), it’s likely the Church leaders felt they would have done a better job than the tribal-healer wannabes.
Bangladesh has a long way to go down the road to enlightenment. It’s a country where nearly 10% of the people believe in the existence of sorcery while more than 20% believe in the “evil eye,” according to the Pew Research Center.
Bangladesh isn’t the only country torn by witch killings. In India, the practice has resulted in the deaths of over 2,097 people, predominantly women, from 2000 to 2012.
In the region of Assam, things got so bad that legislators had to draft an anti-witch-hunting bill to put an end to these nonsensical killings earlier this year.
Belief in witchcraft and the occult remains widespread in some impoverished areas of Asia and Africa — and poverty, illiteracy, and lack of education are the roots of superstition.
How can we afford such tragedies in the age of knowledge? And does the Catholic Church genuinely believe it will solve the superstition problem in tribal areas, considering that the book it extols is filled with imaginary creatures like the Holy Spirit, Seraphim, Cherubs, Fallen Angels, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Mostly, what else can we do to grant further protection to women in the parts of the world that deny them basic human rights?
(Image via Shutterstock)