* Brinelle D'Souza
Date: 21st January 2019
Cardinal Oswald Gracias
Catholic Bishops Conference India
Nathalal Parekh Road
Dear Cardinal Gracias,
Some of us who are members of the Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM), Indian Women Theologians’ Forum (IWTF), Forum for Justice and Peace (FORUM), Satyashodhak (Mumbai), Indian Theological Association (ITA) and Women’s Section of the Conference of Religious India (CRI) were filled with great hope on reading the LETTER OF THE ORGANIZING COMMITTEE TO PARTICIPANTS FOR THE FEB. 21-24 MEETING ON "PROTECTION OF MINORS AND VULNERABLE ADULTS". We refer in particular to the sentence:
"The first step must be acknowledging the truth of what has happened. For this reason, we urge each Episcopal conference president to reach out and visit with victim survivors of clergy sex abuse in your respective countries prior to the meeting in Rome, to learn first-hand the suffering that they have endured."
This is a recommendation that stands as a sign that the Organizing Committee is sensitive to the climate of distrust, disbelief, condemnation and soul-destroying silence that often surrounds victim-survivors of rape and sexual abuse in the church. The first major step in bringing justice and healing is indeed “acknowledging the truth of what has happened”. And what better way to do this than to listen with love and empathy to the pain and the shame of these victim-survivors.
The Church in India is proud to see you as one of the architects of this letter and we were looking forward to India giving the lead in this process. In the Jalandhar case we have a sister who has accused a bishop of rape and sent numerous letters of appeal for justice and a hearing to Church authorities including the Pope. Her story was covered extensively by the media because a group of sisters from her congregation went on a public protest at the way in which she was being denied justice. Despite all her letters, sadly, to date, according to media reports not a single bishop has visited her “to learn first-hand the suffering that (she has) endured.” We were waiting with much anticipation for you as President of the CBCI and one of the signatories of the letter to participants of the February, meeting to reach out to her. All communications from the bishops till now have mainly stated that they will not interfere in the matter and let the civil judicial system take its course. But is this not an abdication of the Church’s pastoral responsibility?
As the Indian Church prepares for the February meeting with you at the helm, we pray that our bishops will take that first step that you have recommended and hold out a hand not just to the sister in Jalandhar but to all who are hurting and struggling under the weight of the silence and evasion of action that surrounds clergy sexual abuse. We hope that you will listen to their stories. We hope too that a space has been created in the February meeting for the voices of some of the victim-survivors of clergy sexual abuse, to be heard.
We pray that the Spirit guides you, and that you add strength and credibility to your letter by reaching out to your own.
We look forward to your leadership and continue to accompany you with our prayers for the difficult yet redeeming task ahead,
Kochurani Abraham, Convener (ICWM)
Jessica Richard, Secretary (ICWM)
Noella D’Souza, Treasurer (ICWM)
Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, Member, National Interim Team (ICWM)
Aruna Gnanadason, Member, National Interim Team (ICWM)
Brinelle D’Souza, Regional Joint Co-ordinator (ICWM)
Dorothy Fernandes, ICWM, Patna.
Virginia Saldanha, Secretary (IWTF)
Anita Cheria, Member (IWTF)
Sr. Patricia Santos RJM, IWTF
Pune Nalini Nayak, IWTF, Nalini Nayak
Margaret Gonsalves, IWTF, Vasai
Philomina Thomas, Director, WWC, IWTF, Pune
Jacob Peenikaparambil, Forum Convener (FORUM)
Manju Kulapuram, Secretary (FORUM)
Hazel D’Lima, Founder Member, Satyashodhak
Ralph Fernandes, Founder Member, Satyashodhak
Pauline Chakkalakal, Member, Satyashodhak Ananda Amritmahal, Member, Satyashodhak. Patricia D’ Souza, Member, Satyashodhak. Suren Abreu, Member, Satyashodhak
Olga Netto, Member, Satyashodhak, ICWM R Alphonso Member, ICWM, Satyashodhak, IWTF Philomena D'Souza
Raj Irudaya, Secretary, (ITA)
T.K John, Member, (ITA)
Errol D’Lima, Member, (ITA)
Therese Meera RGS, Secretary, National CRI Women’s Section
Cedric Prakash SJ
Stanislaus Alla SJ
Albert M. Menezes, SJ
Prashant Olalekar SJ
* Ms Brinelle D'Souza is an academic and an activist. She teaches at the Centre for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.