The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has dismissed as “fake” and “malicious” a letter purportedly written by its secretary general about an alleged plan to evangelize an offshoot of Hinduism in Karnataka. The Church body on May 9 issued an “official clarification” about the alleged letter being circulated in the social media and in Karnataka state that is all set to elect its legislative assembly on May 12. His Excellency Bishop Mascarenhas has listed several errors in the March 28 letter allegedly written by His Eminence Cardinal Oswald Gracias to His Grace Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore in the wake of the Karnataka government’s decision to grant religious minority status to Lingayat community.

The conference secretary-general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas clarified that “The circulation of this letter just before the Karnataka elections is a disgraceful mischievous ploy. We reserve the right to take legal action against those involved in making and promoting that letter.” Further, His Grace Bishop added, “Cardinal Oswald Gracias is the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. He is not the secretary general  as alleged by those who are circulating and promoting this letter.”

The “fake” letter begins thanking God for the Karnataka government’s decision on the Lingayat community that it says was an answer to the Church’s prayers. It also alleges that the Vatican embassy officials had met the Karnataka rulers on December 21, 2013, and several times later to press for separate religious status for Lingayats. The Church officials point out that the letter was neither written on a letterhead nor carried a signature. “The language mistakes in that letter point out that it could not have originated from our office”, says the Bishop.

“Let’s work hard for the rich harvest of souls of souls in Karnataka,” says the letter that lists several steps to evangelize the followers of Lingayats. It wants the Church to build an “emotional bridge” with Lingayat religious leaders and institutions by 2020 to effect 5 percent conversion of the community by 2043. Lingayats, a distinct Shaivite religious tradition, are followers of the 12th-century poet-philosopher-social reformer Basaveshwara who rebelled against established Hindu tradition by defying the caste system and Vedic rituals.