MAKING SENSE OF THE SR. LUCY ORDEAL – Valson Thampu

Rev. Valson Thampu is a popular columnist with a distinct vision. In Sr. Lucy's case, he says that it should not be on the eruption on the body that we need to concentrate but on the cause in the body. He presents his side, point by point. Continue to read his article: jmattappally asso. editor


Events, broadly speaking, are of two kinds. One in which individuals are put to the test and their mettle is proved or exposed. The other, in which communities and societies are put to the test; exonerated or exposed. In the former, individuals lose, if issues are not understood aright.  In the second, communities emerge more bankrupt; if they fail to read the underlying messages and reform themselves accordingly. The Sr. Lucy saga is of this kind. It is necessary, therefore, that the Christian community understand this aright; especially given the desperate and devious attempts being made, by those who have to suppress the truth, to misinform the people that this is an issue of ‘discipline’. This is ironic; for those who wield the sword of discipline against Sr. Lucy are the most undisciplined in the sight of God. 

This will become clear, if we use a medical analogy. The Sr. Lucy episode, in relation to the church, is like a diabetic rash that erupts on the body. The eruption is an isolated thing in itself; but it is serious as a symptom of the systemic ill-health the body has been harbouring. Only the foolish will insist that in such cases we should look only at the rash, and not engage with the underlying disease. The patient will die, if this is done. We want the patient to live, not die. Hence the following-

The patient in the present instance is not Sr. Lucy. It is the Christian community; in particular the Catholic Church, that tries to hide its inner rot under authoritarian repression. The church oligarchs must be expected to invoke canon law and convent rules to create an illusion of being endangered. Demonizing Sr. Lucy becomes necessary to attain this end. She is accused of ‘lifestyle’ offences; which only means that she cannot be damned on any spiritual ground. Here is the proof. If Sr. Lucy was indeed guilty of these alleged offences, she should have been acted against before the Franco rape case. She committed them prior to it. It is quite certain that no action against Sr. Lucy would have been initiated, if she hadn’t taken a stand inconvenient to Franco Mulakkal. It is only now that her achievements have become ‘offences’. This is too obvious to not look petty and pathetic in the public eye. Sr. Lucy, on her part, is clear that she is not the core issue. She is only a finger that points to a host of key and critical issues that demand urgent attention.  What are they?

  1. A major issue emerging from this event is the need to make the spiritual vocation of nuns spiritually authentic, rather than physically vulnerable and economically exploitative. Consider this: how can nuns who, according to Pope Francis, are sexually violated by those who should be their protectors, be unblemished spiritual assets in the eyes of the church that endorses and perpetuates this atrocity? If the piteous plight of our nuns is not a concern for the church authorities, it is clear that they no longer see the nuns as comprising a spiritual order. Now, here’s what all Christians must understand clearly. The moment the spiritual authenticity of the vocation of the nuns is violated or disowned by the church, they are degraded into slavery. This is a serious matter. 

  2. We need to understand the nature of this slavery. A slave is one whose life, freedom, way of life, scope or activities, are all determined by others. It is in relation to slaves that ‘restrictions’ become paramount, as is now clearly the case with our nuns. No one has any business, at the same time, to raise any questions about any regulation applicable to bishops and their sidekicks. They are, in effect, slave-drivers. In the eyes of the church, the only thing that matters is that nuns “obey” the rules and regulations imposed on them, without asking a question about their fairness or spiritual validity. If this is not slavery, what is? 

  3. Slaves were, in ancient times, outside the pale of law. Slave owners could ill-treat, sell, or kill them. They had no protection or remedy. Their life did not belong to them. Their life had no intrinsic value. Their value was determined by their owners. This explains why the rape-victim-nun did not get justice from the church. In the eyes of our autocratic slave-owners, it was not worth their while to pay heed to her cries. She did not deserve justice. 

  4. Slaves were never entitled to ‘equality of treatment’. What we must keep in mind is that the question of ‘hypocrisy’ does not arise in such a context. If a slave is being treated in ways that mock Christian values, or differently from other free men, there is nothing wrong about it in the perception of their owners or of the public. This explains why the church authorities cannot realize that there is impropriety in the gender-discriminative way our nuns are treated. Consider this: Sr. Lucy is not the only nun or priest in the Catholic Church who drives or owns a car. Priests also do. Bishops own up-end cars. But that is not perceived as improper because men are not slaves. All of us will be shocked, on the contrary, if a bishop is seen to be using an ordinary car; and we will faint, if he uses by public transport!  

  5. The foremost issue that we are a faith community that believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ need to realize is that outright slavery thrives under the auspices of the church. This will be seen clearly, if the curtains of deceptive illusions are drawn aside. This is a scandal to the Way of Jesus. Jesus came to set the captives free. His middlemen of our times decoy unsuspecting young women into slavery. Sr. Lucy is protesting against this hypocrisy. She is saying, “Look, no nun is required by her spiritual calling to be your slave. Rather, her discipleship to Jesus urges her to break the chains of unfreedom.” 

  6. The plight of nuns today is worse than that of ancient slaves. The slaves of yore could fondle hopes of being manumitted, or set free in the future. Such hopes do not relieve the gloom of our nuns. They are shut up in dungeons of hopelessness. Once they enter a convent, they are presumed to suffer ‘civil death’. They become de facto living corpses. Ancient slaves were not dead bodies; only nuns are required to be. You can do what you please with dead bodies. It is unnatural for dead bodies to have rights, or grievances. It is high time we interrogated this inhuman arrangement. The idea that nuns are civilly dead bodies –and required to live as ghosts- is laughable! If they are ghosts, why are they raped? How can you expel a ghost from a convent? From this it is sufficiently clear that these are convenient fictions meant to keep nuns in perpetual submission; degraded in sexual slavery. 

  7.  Not only that. This perverse idea flies in the face of Jesus’ mission. Jesus came that all of us may have life in its fullness (St. John 1:10). Those who pretend to be his followers make dead bodies of young, living women. This is a cruel joke, not only on our hapless daughters and sisters but also on Jesus Christ, the fountainhead of our faith. 

  8. If nuns are dead in a civil sense, and are hence not entitled to legal relief, of ownership of anything material, what about bishops? How come they can claim to be –as George Alanchery did in the High Court- exclusive owners of the material assets of the church? Ghosts may over-hang, but never ‘own’, property or fixed assets. From this alone we should know the extent of double-standards and superstition prevalent in our midst. 

  9. The plight of nuns raises yet another serious issue. We live in a democratic society, which guarantees freedom of choice. This is not only political but also spiritual. God gives to everyone freedom of choice. God respects our freedom. He coerces none. But where do our nuns stand in relation to freedom of choice? In a vast majority of cases the decision for a young girl to enter a Convent is taken for her by her parents. In this they are swayed by a mere supposition in our community that it is meritorious for a family to have a nun or a priest hailing from it. The girl to be made a nun would have no idea of what she is getting into? Or, if she really has a spiritual vocation. This is true also of men who become priests. Otherwise, we won’t have had a priest who raped and impregnated a sixteen-years-old girl and –what is even more diabolic- tried to bribe her father into becoming the scapegoat in his place. Spiritual vocation, this? But things like this do not prick the conscience of the church big-wigs as much as the offence of a nun in writing poems does! Like the society at large, the church too is indulgent towards the sexual perversions of men; whereas it crushes women with hypocritical fury. The teaching of Jesus, “Those who have not sinned may cast the first stone”, hasn’t made any difference to the church. 

  10. We must realize at this eleventh hour that vast numbers of nuns are living in conditions of slavery –as Pope Francis clearly said. If we do, we will agree that at some point in their lives each nun should be given the opportunity to make an informed choice to continue in her calling or not. Perhaps this can be done five years after a young girl joins convent. The rules of a convent should be make applicable to only those nuns who, having had the opportunity to judge for themselves, choose to stay on. 

  11. Yet another issue emerges from the plight of nuns: their economic exploitation. Nuns are not only exploited sexually but also economically. (In point of fact, sex and economics operate as partners. Sex is either bought –as in prostitution- or suppressed –as in celibacy- for monetary considerations. Sexual freedom also stands on money.) Their plight is worse than that of daily wage workers. Such workers are entitled to wages; nuns are a free workforce, bonded for life. What about the incomes they generate through hard work for years and decades? Jesus stipulated that ‘a worker is entitled to his wages’. Nuns are kept in economic deprivation, just to ensure that they never develop independence of spirit and remain in subjection to slavery out of sheer helplessness. The bedrock of the slavery to which nuns are yoked is economic deprivation, not ‘obedience’ as is often misunderstood. This is conveniently and profitably glorified as ‘sacrificial’ service. The question arises as to why sacrificial service is good only for nuns, and not for bishops and archbishops, who live in conspicuous opulence, being served by others? 

  12. We have a duty to ensure that clear-cut provisions are put in place to compensate adequately the work done by a nun, if and when she chooses to exit convent. The church has a duty to rehabilitate them with dignity, protected against destitution and vulnerability. It is cruel to cast out a nun, after having exploited and prospered from her labours for decades, without due compensation. Anything less than this amounts, in retrospect, to have practised bonded labour. Let this be clearly understood. The convent keeping the incomes of nuns for the while that they are members may be justified somewhat. But this becomes indefensible the moment a nun is cast out, or when she chooses to leave convent. At that point, if she is not fully compensated, she becomes, in retrospect, a bonded labourer as per the definition of the law. The reason is simple. The arrangement under which the previous financial discipline could have been justified has ceased to exist. What was till then a voluntary offering of one’s labours becomes a retro-active expropriation. 

  13. Yet another issue raised starkly by this event pertains to ‘chastity’; in the case of nuns, this becomes virginity. It is nothing but worldly shrewdness on the part of the church that chastity is equated with celibacy. Do we really believe that married men and women cannot be chaste? Really? What an insult! It is more than likely that ordinary men and women who lead disciplined, God-fearing family life are more chaste compared to bishops and priests and, because of the criminal perversity of some of them, also helpless nuns. It is clearly the case that the sexual exploitation of nuns will not end, so long as celibacy is imposed on priests and bishops. Marriage is not sinful! God is the Inventor of matrimony, not Satan! Celibacy is an out and out economic scheme; it has no spiritual merit. Rather, when it is imposed arbitrary on priests and nuns –irrespective of their spiritual convictions and volitions- it creates a world of perversions. Surely, it is godlier that priests marry than that they become pedophiles and corrupt our children. Even our boys are not safe, thanks to these ‘celibate’ saints of our times. This flaming hypocrisy must end; the sooner, the better. 

  14. It is very likely that a few individuals –say one in a thousand- may have a vocation to be celibate. This needs to be respected. At the same time, those in this category need to be screened for homosexuality so that our boys are safe. This is not to justify homophobia, but to be responsible in managing church life. 

  15. Like in the case of nuns, bishops and priests too should be given the choice to marry, if they feel they need to. What merit is there in making then burn, as St. Paul says, in lifelong suppressed sexual prurience? The church abandon its theological denigration of sex. Sex is a source of pollution only when it is abused and turned into a site of crime and moral corruption. Sex, in the plan of God, is sacred: it is the medium of life. It is our perversion that makes it seem impure. The exclusion of priests and nuns from this God-ordained privilege cannot be justified any longer. We must give up being wiser than God. 

  16. Finally, there is a crucial issue to be addressed; for it is sure to burst into public attention soon. What should be the relationship between canon law and the Constitution of India? Does a religious functionary cease to be a citizen of India, or get excluded from the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution? Can fundamental rights be ‘renounced’ in perpetuity by anyone by way of meeting the requirements of any system, religious or otherwise? To put canonically, does ‘civil death’ –which a nun is supposed to incur- amount to ‘citizenship death’ also? As of today, a host of indefensible things are being justified by the Church on the presupposition that a nun is not a citizen for purposes of law. This is clearly wrong! It will not stand in law, as time will prove. We, as a community, need to debate this issue and evolve our own standpoint; so that we don’t have to be coerced legally or politically in this regard.  

 

There are other issues as well. But, the ones flagged above should suffice to start a long-overdue discussion on the crisis we face today and the responsibilities it highlights. 

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