Global Council Network


Realities, Challenges and the Future of Asian Christianity

by Dr. Paul Hwang, Director of Asian Lay Leaders (ALL) Forum

1. Problems of Asian Churches:

“Systematic & Structural Sin and Lack of Leadership”

1) Cases of Sex abuse by Clergy

- India

i) The Case of Bishop Franco Mulakkal

“Indian authorities charged a Roman Catholic bishop on Tuesday with repeatedly raping a nun in her rural convent, a case that helped make the sexual abuse of nuns a major issue in the church.

Bishop Franco Mulakkal was charged with rape, illegal confinement and intimidation, said Hari Sankar, a district police chief in the southern state of Kerala, India’s Catholic heartland.

The nun who made the accusations, who has not been publicly identified, said she went to police last year only after complaining repeatedly to church authorities. Eventually, a group of fellow nuns launched unprecedented public protests to demand Mulakkal’s arrest. He was arrested but released after a few weeks.

Mulakkal was the official patron of the nun’s community, the Missionaries of Jesus, and wielded immense influence over its budgets and job assignments. The nun said the rapes occurred between 2014 and 2016.” [1]

ii) The Case of Cardinal Oswald Gracias

Mumbai police have been ordered to investigate accusations that Cardinal Oswald Gracias and two auxiliary bishops covered up an accusation of clerical sexual abuse in 2015. The Cardinal Gracias has been a member of the “advisory committee” of 9 cardinals for Pope Francis.

Father Lawrence Johnson was arrested in 2016 on allegations of the sexual abuse of a child, but the family of a boy abused by the priest met briefly with Gracias on November 30, 2015, shortly before the cardinal was scheduled to leave for Rome.

The victim’s father told the court that Bishop John Rodrigues conducted an internal inquiry into the allegation but refused to share the details with the parents and didn’t report the allegation to the police.

According to the 2012 law, all allegations of sexual abuse should be reported to the police. [2]

- Korea

One Salesian priest dispatched as missionary in South Sudan in which he raped a woman missionary was suspended later when the woman victim went to the public as a part of “Me Too” movement. After that CBCK president swiftly made an apology about what happened and promised to set up a committee dealing with such sexual abuse by the clergy under the bishops’ conference and all the dioceses. No single case has been reported so far nor any Catholics know how such committees have been composed and been functioning.

- Philippines

Clergy sex abuse cases in the Philippines are not exposed but a big problem said Fr. Shay Cullen, the Columban missionary priest who has been working with prostituted children for the past four decades. He said, "We have these bishops who have been covering up so much of this abuse, and we know that it is still going on," founder of the People’s Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance Foundation. 

Most of the clergy accused of sexual abuse settled cases out of court, were acquitted, or moved to other parishes by their bishops. There were also priests with pending court cases who were quietly reinstated to pastoral duties.[3]  SHAPE  \* MERGEFORMAT In the pastoral letter in 2018, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) vowed to not “cover up” clergy abuses amid many cases of sexual misconducts by the clergy exposed. The CBCP has already issued a Pastoral Guidelines on Sexual Abuses and Misconduct by the Clergy in 2003 but useless simply because it has not been implemented.

2) Realities of Asian Churches in Terms of “Synodality” by Pope Francis

- India (CCI)

The Indian Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) had decided to hold its biannual general meeting in Tirubanantapuram, southern India, in 1996 and reform the discussion structure of the bishops' conference so that all parts of the church, including representatives of laypeople, could participate in the decision-making process. That was how the Catholic Council of India (CCI) was born. Bishops were asked to delegate the right to decide on church-specific issues to the Catholic Council of India, and to discuss and comment on issues that are different at the bishops' meeting. CCI consists of bishops, priests, Religious, lay representatives.

However, it has not been the "discussion structure reform" of the Bishops' Conference. It has not been properly implemented for any reason as of June  2019. Above all, it has not been known by local Catholics themselves which put its representativeness in question. Part of which, it has not dealt with any serious issues in its regular meetings pastoral policies and decision which is directly against its foundation spirit. CCI does not have its own Internet homepage, but operates Face Book which is one of SNS. It updates the news one or two times a year, which is very "light" content such as the basic catechism or celebrations like Christmas, but cannot find anything like "consensus" or "decision."

- Philippine (PCP II)

Joseph Healey, MM, has committed himself on SCCs especially in Eastern Africa by updating data every year which includes those of Asian Churches.[4] I just quote some part of his work here regarding SCCs or BECs in the Phil. which shows his perspective toward them.

He quotes Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato by saying:

The Asian vision of church is built on basic ecclesial communities with a collaborative leadership style. Asia's vision of church is relevant to the
vision of Pope Francis who is looking at the periphery rather than at the
center. The "main pastoral priority" in Cotabato is the building of basic
ecclesial communities in which the idea of forming persons of dialog is being
implemented. The idea of leadership that is shared, not just a dictate from
above, but collaborative, consultative -- what is called a participatory church --
is being built in the basic ecclesial communities. This is a participatory church,
a church of the poor, an inculturated church and a church of authentic disciples
-- true followers of Christ, not only in name but in deed.[5]

But it is an “abstract theory” which has little to do with the reality in the Philippine church or Asia as a whole. If you do “reality check” of it you could find the quite opposite results. Healey even brings “the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines” or “PCP II” here held in the country in 1991 where the local church became “the first church which declared the church of the poor” in the world on an official and national level. Regarding BECs, he cites what Carinal Luis Tagle of Manila spoke in a pastoral assembly in 2014:

“Tagle stressed the importance of BECs as the "expression of a renewed church. Basic Ecclesial Communities, under various names and forms.”… “PCP II emphasizes the need for BECs to rally the faithful behind the Second Vatican Council's ‘vision of a renewed Church’ and ‘for the full living of the Christian vocation.’

But I wouldn’t shouldn’t agree with both Quevedo and Tagle in terms of their praising and emphasis on BECs and PCP II.

Dennis Murphy, one of the pioneers and forefathers working for the urban poor in Asia, points out that ten years after PCP II, the Church had to admit that its effort had failed.[6] Bishop Teodoro Bacani, one of three drafters of PCP II documents and the head of draft committee for Religious in the national assembly, wrote a few years later that the Church had thus missed its historic destiny. Murphy made comments on the event by using Bishop Bacani’s article in 2005 titled “Church of the Poor: The Church in the Philippines’ Reception of Vatican II”[7] appeared in East Asia Pastoral Institute’s website.

Murphy criticizes Bishop Bacani who selected the following quotes from the documents of PCP II: “When the Church in the Philippines becomes truly the Church of the Poor, the poor will feel at home in her, and will participate actively, as equal to others, in her life and mission, a sign and instrument for the unity of the whole Filipino nation. The Church of the Poor will practice solidarity with the poor. It will collaborate with the poor themselves and with others to lift up the poor from their poverty.”

Murphy raised a serious question about it by saying “Did the delegates believe that the problems existing between rich and poor would disappear if Catholics knew each other and cared for one another?” He continued to criticize it that “We do not see in the selections any hint of Pope Francis’ passion, any hint that the gangrene of corruption has attacked our whole civilization, or any hint of the Theology of Liberation. Maybe the Church of the Poor can only take root in a society that knows it is rotten with corruption and greed.”

- Cases of FABC

In 80s and 90s BISA, BIRA, BILA, BIMA and other “BIs” have been very active thanks to sincere and capable secretary generals like Fr. Desmond de Sousa from Goa, India who had led OHD at that time of Bishop Labayen supported by, Cardinal Stephan Kim, Cardinal Fumio Hamao, Bishop Bunluen Mansap and many other leaders in the church of Asia. But since late 1990s FABC has begun to be withdrawn in both theology and practice. In Feb. 2019, I met in person and suggested Cardinal Chalres Bo, the new president of FABC, that it is time that we should revitalize FABC in a more “synodal” way.

Suggestions included that necessary reshuffling should be done and followed by a strategy-building steering meeting with the new and other officials of FABC: Through them it could organize Asian Institute for Social Action (AISA) done in the name of OHD in 70s-90s in a more collaborative manner. It includes not only bishops but priests, Religious and lay pastoral workers. Previously we had BISAs first and then proceeded to AISA and FEISA (Faith Encounters in Social Action) until mid. 90s in order to implement what we got from BISAs on the level of all the dioceses in Asia. But this time we could explore the spirit of “Synodality” or “walking together” in an Asian way. Why “Asian” here? What about it? By Asian way we meant a community-centered approach in which communion could and should be realized. That is more “synodal”, so churches from other continents would follow such Asian model. That is especially relevant when it comes to the “Kingdom approach” of FABC theology and its methodology specifically toward to “triple dialogue” with the poor, diverse cultures and great religious traditions in Asia.

The thing here is not the number of participants in the on-going program but those who want to follow “journeying together” on the diocesan level could be invited regardless how many participants would join. It is because they will be the seed or liven to yield multifold cultivation in the diocesan and national levels eventually.

- The Case of Asian Lay Leaders Forum/ ALL Forum

Suggestions of ALL Forum to FABC in its final statement in 2017

1. The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) need to recognize, support and empower the laity by having a dialogue with them at the diocesan, national and the continental level. For this, we suggest FABC to support lay leaders in Asia to form an “Asian Lay Council” as a representative body of the laity in Asia. Further, the FABC could help local bishops’ conferences in the continent to form “National Pastoral Council (NPC)” which does not exist in many Asian countries in order to promote dialogue with the laity. In NPC, clergy, Religious and laity could discuss, work, and make decisions together for a new vision of being church in Asia. Such a “synodolity” or a “process of making a decision together” is one of most important thoughts and deeds of Pope Francis.

2. Asian communities, representing truly diverse peoples and cultures, continue to promote dialogue across communities. In recent years, many movements have surfaced and proliferated with regards to inter-religious dialogue. This is a good development, but we believe more needs to be done in order to counter extremism and violence. Also a more concerted manner is needed in a region or country to promote human rights for every Asian citizen.

3. Regarding Complimentary Relation of FABC and ALL Forum

1) AYA/ATF could be a part of FABC program

- FABC could support young lay leaders in pan-Asian level through the on-going programs of ALL Forum such as Asian Youth Academy (AYA)/ Asian Theology Forum (ATF) which has proved to its effectiveness and efficiency for the last 10 years and the “Moving School” which have been taking place in a country where more young people could have a similar program to AYA/ATF.

2) FABC’s endorsement for ALL Forum’s pan-Asian programs

- Strength: ALL Forum will get fund easier for its all programs and FABC provide young lay leaders in pan-Asia with a regular and consistent formation program.

3) FABC’s endorsement for ALL Forum’s programs in each country

- Strength: ALL Forum and some lay-initiated movements LAMIN (Lay Mission Institute) in Myanmar or TIL (Theology Institute for Laity) in Pakistan could work together on regular basis.

- Obstacles to Realizing “Synodal church” and a Way Forward in Asia

1) Strong clergy-centered culture – Among 9 offices of FABC, for example, all offices are represented by male clergy no single woman involved or participated except one woman Religious for the Office of Consecrated Life. Only one (conservative) lay male is representing one office of 9 in it as secretary general. Similar things are true in parish, diocese and national level of church institutions including seminary professors especially in Korea, Philippines and India.

2) Problem of lay representation: Who would be right and legitimized lay groups or individuals for the possible lay representation body such as “Asian Lay Council” even if it is formed?

Pope Francis and FABC have been surrounded by very powerful and ultra conservative lay groups which are very good at church politics such as ME, Opus Dei, Focolare, Sant’Egidio, Neocatechumenate, and others to which many clergy want to have a relationship with.

3) A very weak leadership in nearly all churches in Asia: Many of bishops appointed under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI which is one of main reasons for the current corruption and sexual abuse by clergy.

3) Over-evaluated SCCs as FABC Ecclesiology

In the 5th PA of FABC Asian bishops declared SCCs as its official ecclesiology. But it has revealed its limitation to be confined within church wall. The concept of SCCs from South Africa, Lumko Institute to be exact, has indeed failed to adapt to many countries in Asia, the land of diversity, losing its “dynamism from below”, the very spirit of Vatican II. We need to revisit the current SCCs because we should revive such dynamism. We need diverse models of church with/into neighbors in mind no matter what model it would be. One model could be “Basic Human Communities” (BHCs).

- BHCs have been mentioned by Asian theologians and pastoral workers such as A. Pieris esp. in his book Fire and Water in 90s and Bishop Labayen in 70s who explored this BHCs model following Antioch model of church in Act 19-26 for the past 30 years. It went not without a strong lay formation called “YAPAK” (Following footstep of Jesus). We need various model of churches with relevant and consistent lay formation as such. (But YAPAK, unfortunately, had to stop due to lack of fund since 2008.)

- Considering the current parish-centered model of church prevailed in Asia, the role of parish could be a center while BHCs or SCCs as a Bible sharing group and other character communities could have “autonomous functions” but not without a connection with the parish as their center. Infanta diocese in the Philippines has kept going this kind of relationship though it has been weakened since the time of Bishop Labayen.

4) Future Direction of Asian Theology

Some 10 years ago Fr. Felix Wilfred had a dialogue with Fr. Michael Amaladoss, a worldly known Asian theologian especially on inculturation, in which the former asked the latter to change the theological term “inculturation” to “intercultural encounter” in theological discourse. It looks a simple asking but implies a lot of social and religio-cultural issues.

- “Inculturation” is the word which seems to remain still a dualism such as the church as subject and cultures as object. Ever since 1492 and 1521 when Columbus and Magellan “discovered” or “invaded” (from the perspective of people ‘discovered’) LA (San Salvador) and Asia (the Philippines) respectively, the peoples in the two continents “have lost” their language and were forced to think and talk in the colonizers’ language and grammar which were foreign, different from and even did not fit theirs.

- Therefore, “Modernity”, composed of Industrialism, Enlightenment and Christianity, is something the Western colonizers “experienced” on the one hand, and something the colonized will have to “achieve” (from the post-colonialism view point) on the other. However, that would never be achieved in the three continents such as Asia, Africa and LA as a historical fact. So, when it comes to FABC theology it should wrestle fundamentally with the issue of modernity by bringing the matters of “de-colonialism” or “post-colonialism” and “de-imperialism”. Based on the “theologies of pluralism” coming from real lives of peoples and “inter-cultural encounter” in Asia, it should “go public” going beyond “common good” which presupposes that we have something in common by not minding differences bet. classes in economic, cultural and social arenas.

- Also based on the past 50 years of Asian theologies, FABC theologies of Inculturation and interreligious dialogue should deal with history and phenomenon of de-colonialism as a critical response to post-colonialism and de-imperialism in Asia in an interdisciplinary manner.

- We should revisit what we called “Triple Dialogue”, the “trademark” of FABC for the past 50 years, in the light of “regionality”, ethnicity and “inter-civilizational” dialogue especially with Islam not as a religion but a civilization.[8] Recognizing this FABC or Asian Churches as a whole should prepare themselves first by identifying Asian Catholics as “Civil Catholics” with global citizenship in mind. And then we could talk about “Civil Islam” which preconditions the break-up of the typical duality of the sacred or the holy and the profane or the secular. Then, we as laypeople could start to find ways to live together with “others” like Islam people in which the old concept of “interreligious dialogue” led by the clergy should be withdrawn, if not totally abandoned.  


[1] Indian bishop charged with repeatedly raping nun, AP, April 9, 2019. (

[2] “Court in India orders investigation of cardinal after cover-up accusation” CRUX , Nirmala Carvalho May 22, 2019

[3] Joe Torres, “Philippine bishops accused of abuse cover-up”,, June 3, 2013.


[4] The latest update of his work is shown in his research book of “Building the Church as Family of God: Evaluation of Small Christian Communities in Eastern Africa” in which he cites Quevedo and Tagle also appeared in the NCR report dated on Feb. 25, 2014. His naïve understanding of SCCs or BECs in Philippines and Asia as a whole does not correctly grasp the realities of them. Even in East Africa it is true to say that SCCs or BECs have been relatively active but not been on the right direction in terms of their role for people in general. A Tanzanian theologian and parish priest named Laurenti Magesa has given a very critical approach toward SCCs and inculturation led by the church hierarchy in Eastern Africa until today. (Regarding this see his articles in African Ecclesial Review 16 and 17, 1974-75). Similarly, the same is true of the situation in Latin America in the light of role of church or BECs or inculturation. It is Aiban Wagua, living with Kuna ethnic group as priest from a Panama Indio community himself, criticizes the church’s double standard or binary attitude toward Indigenous Peoples (Ips) by saying that “The church has always been very sensitive to human rights, to the poor and needy, the marginalized in the dominant society, but when it has been a question of the ‘other’, she has regarded him as an enemy, a pagan, infidel, Moor, Indian… in other words they are different.”  See Aiban Wagua, “Present Consequences of the European Invasion of America,” Concilium 6 (1990): 53. He reiterates such attitude is “spiritual colonization.” From this I don’t hope Joseph Healey over evaluate on BECs or SCCs managed by the church hierarchy if not mystified them especially in Asia, LA and Africa.

[5] Orlando Quevedo in Joshua J. McElwee, “New Philippines Cardinal Calls for Church to

Turn Toward Poor.” National Catholic Reporter (NCR) Website, retrieved 25 February,


[6] Denis Murphy, “Too late for a ‘Church of the Poor’?”, INQUIRER.NET, July 21, 2015

[7] Teodoro C. Bacani, Jr.”Church Of The Poor The Church In The Philippines Reception Of Vatican Ii”  East Asian Pastoral Review, Volume 42 2005 Number 12.

At the last phrase, he said: “Since then many things have changed, but poverty in the Philippines has not lessened, and its causes have not been eradicated. Corruption remains unchecked. Philippine politics has not improved. It remains the chief obstacle to our progress as a nation. The Church has not been identified by the poor as their friend. There is still hope, so we must ask: Will PCP-II’s vision of a Church of the Poor remain a dream?” (my emphasis)

[8] But it has nothing to do with the dichotomy theory of Samuel Huntington’s “the Clash of Civilizations”. Rather it suggests the inter-civilizational dialogue should consider their religious dimension in the light of actual human lives in a concrete region and ethnictity.