Clergy abuse of nuns in India

Yesterday June 26, 2016 Matters India made a startling exposure through a report captioned:

Clergy abuse of nuns in India 

Story By: Jose Kavi

The Editor-in-Chief Jose Kavi must be complimented for his courage and conviction in publishing this corruption in religious order, winked at by almost all the 180 Bishops of India.

The report begins:

New Delhi: Despite her efforts, Sister Manju Kulapuram could not get justice for a fellow nun who was a victim of voyeurism two years ago. Kulapuram is the national secretary of the Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace, an advocacy group for women religious.

The nun had complained to Kulapuram that a seminarian had secretly watched and videotaped her taking a bath. The sister and seminarian were attending a seminar on rural healthcare in an eastern Indian town. Kulapuram, whose organization assists religious in sexual abuse matters, prefers to keep the names of the people involved in the case anonymous.

The forum, a group of progressive Catholic religious in India, dissuaded the victim from going to court and assured her that they would get her justice from church authorities, says Kulapuram, a Holy Cross nun.

They took the matter to the seminarian’s bishop. The prelate merely sent him to Rome to continue his theological studies, Kulapuram says.

The forum then took the case to the apostolic nuncio, urging the papal representative to speed up the process of justice and set up “an objective and impartial mechanism within the church” to address sexual harassment cases involving church personnel.

Kulapuram says, despite these measures, the victim did not get justice, and her own superiors failed to support her. “Finally she was forced to leave the religious life disgusted,” Kulapuram, who worked closely with the victim, told Global Sisters Report.

The former nun is now settled in Kerala, her native state in southern India, and has cut all contact with people associated with her former life as a religious.

Poor treatment of Catholic religious women by male members of the church is “a very serious problem” in India, Kulapuram says. “If it comes out, it will be like a tsunami,” she warns.

The scope of clergy abuse of Catholic sisters in India is unknown and has not been studied. In this case, and often in others, the abuser was not disciplined or removed from his clergy role, and the outcome of the cases remain secret. In June, Pope Francis spoke out against church secrecy when he decreed that bishops who protect clergy sex abusers would face removal. His law focused mostly on victims of pedophiles but also mentioned “vulnerable adults.”

In February, the forum for religious sent “a letter of concern” about the alarming trend of abuse to all bishops and major superiors in India.

A group of Indian Christian women, both lay and religious, consulted on the problem in 2010, 2011 and 2013 and drafted a set of norms to deal with sexual abuse of adults within the church. They sent the standards to the bishops’ conference for action but have received no response. The group will meet again on June 26, said Holy Spirit Sr. Julie George, director of Streevani, a center dealing with women’s issues.

The bishops conference did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.

Opportunities for abuse

The abuses take place in parishes, schools and social service centers where nuns work as subordinates to priests. Some retreat masters and priest counselors, who privately treat sisters with emotional and psychological problems, also abuse nuns, Kulapuram says.

During spiritual retreats, for instance, a nun meets with a clergy adviser in a closed room for guidance and discernment, creating an opportunity for sex abuse.

The forum secretary says that in most abuse cases the nuns do not protest. “This was the one case where the sister stood her ground,” she said in reference to the voyeurism incident.

 “Cases of sexual violence on [religious women] go unaddressed, and its perpetrators often go scot-free. This cannot be tolerated anymore,” says the letter the forum drafted on Feb. 22 at the end of its annual meeting.

About 75 priests and nuns, who are involved in struggles for justice and peace, attended the four-day meeting at Kottayam, a Christian stronghold in the southern Indian state of Kerala, to address the theme “Reinventing Religious Life in the Context of India Today.”

In the end, they said they were forced to write the letter as their analysis of current challenges to religious life revealed issues that needed urgent attention by church leaders.

The letter cites “an increasing use of the Sacraments by the clerics to punish the faithful, especially religious women,” and demanded an immediate end to such practices. In these cases, a priest in conflict with a nun would deny her communion, hearing her confession or saying Mass at her convent. These acts of obvious shunning create scandal in the parish.

The letter also notes attempts to “domesticate” religious life by giving a bishop “total control” over priests and nuns in his diocese. Such moves, the letter says, violate “the very nature and role of religious life,” where men and women try to exemplify “radical evangelical living” in a prophetic way.

The way power is wielded

Sr. Rita Pinto, president of the sisters’ section of the Conference of Religious India, a national association of major superiors, says some bishops allow women orders to open institutions or projects only if they lend some nuns to work in diocesan institutions. “This is a method to bring the sisters under the control of the bishops,” she told GSR. Compelling sisters to do the sacristy work or provide food to parish priests are instances of domesticating the religious, Pinto says.

Sr. Shalini Mulackal, the first woman president of the Indian Theological Association, says the nuns are partly responsible for their domestication in the church. “Often religious women are not assertive or bold enough or knowledgeable enough” to stand up for their “legitimate autonomy,” she says, adding that this is because most women have “internalized patriarchal value systems of society.”

Some bishops and priests who cling to a patriarchal mindset view women as persons with no decision-making or thinking capacity. “They consider women as inferior to men and expect them to be submissive in everything,” Mulackal says.

The biggest taboo

Mulackal, the theologian, says few nuns speak openly about abuses because sex is “a big taboo” among the religious, as it is in Indian society in general.

“So it is almost impossible for young religious to resist and openly tell the concerned authorities to take action for fear of bringing shame upon oneself or even losing one’s religious vocation,” Mulackal told GSR. “It may take a long time before these issues come into the public domain.”

Mulackal, who teaches in a Jesuit theology seminary in New Delhi, cited a case a few years ago when two young nuns were found impregnated by a priest who held a “high position” in another diocese. The order expelled the nuns, but everyone, including the nuns’ congregation, tried to protect the priest to safeguard the church’s name. “In such cases it is difficult to ascertain whether it was sexual violence or coercion, or [whether] it was with the consent of the person concerned,” she told GSR.

The woman theologian says that when bishops are alerted to such cases, the most they would do is transfer the priest, “after giving him a chance of attending some counseling program.”



Isaac Gomes has the following to say:

The report is nothing new.  These are all old stories which were kept under wraps by the Superiors of convents and of course, the Bishops of various dioceses.  The good thing is that there are many brave young nuns who are not taking the hegemony of the clergy lying down and are coming out in the open about clergy abuse of nuns in parishes, schools and social service centres where nuns work as subordinates to priests.  As Manju Kulapuram says some retreat masters and priest counsellors, who privately treat sisters with emotional and psychological problems, also abuse nuns.  During spiritual retreats, for instance, a nun meets with a clergy adviser in a closed room for guidance and discernment, creating an opportunity for sex abuse.

The following report in INDEPENDENT Friday 20 February 2009 exposes the disease further where Superiors of convents have been the main villains in trying to sweep everything under the  carpet:

INDEPENDENT Friday 20 February 2009

Former nun tells of sex and suffering inside Indian convent

Catholic Church stung by autobiography recounting harassment and abuse

A former nun's tell-all story which details illicit relationships, sexual harassment and bullying in the convent where she spent three decades is causing ructions in the Catholic Church in the south Indian state of Kerala.

In Amen – an autobiography of a nun, Sister Jesme says when she became a nun she discovered priests were forcing novices to have sex with them. There were also secret homosexual relationships among the nuns and at one point she was forced into such a relationship by another nun who told her she preferred this kind of arrangement as it ruled out the possibility of pregnancy.

"I did not want to make this book controversial. I want to express my feelings and to explain what happened to me… I want people to know how I have suffered," she told The Independent last night, speaking from the town of Kozhikode. "People say that everything is OK, but I was in the convent and I want them to know what goes on. I have concerns for others."

Sister Jesme, who quit last year as the principal of a Catholic college in Thrissur, alleges senior nuns tried to have her committed to a mental institution after she spoke out against them.

In her book, she says that while travelling through Bangalore, she was once directed to stay with a purportedly pious priest who took her to a garden "and showed me several pairs cuddling behind trees. He also gave me a sermon on the necessity of physical love and described the illicit affairs that certain bishops and priests had". The priest took her to his home, stripped off his clothes and ordered her to do the same.

She also alleges that while senior staff turned a blind eye to the actions of more experienced nuns, novices were strongly punished, even for minor transgressions. She was not allowed to go home after she learnt her father had died. "I was able to see [the body of] my father barely 15 minutes before the funeral,” she writes. “The [response] of the superiors was that the then senior sisters were not even lucky enough to see the bodies of their parents."

When she resigned as a college principal, she claimed convents had become "houses of torture", saying: "The mental torture was unbearable. When I questioned the church's stand on self-financing colleges and certain other issues, they accused me of having mental problems. They have even sent me to a psychiatrist. There are many nuns undergoing ill-treatment from the order, but they are afraid of challenging it. The church is a formidable fortress."

The allegations are not the only controversy to rock the Catholic Church in Kerala. Last summer, a 23-year-old novice committed suicide and left a note saying she had been harassed by her Mother Superior. Reports suggest there have been a number of similar suicides. And in November, police in Kerala arrested two priests and a nun in connection with the killing of Sister Abhaya in a notorious 1992 murder.

Last night, a spokesman for the Syro-Malabar order of the Catholic Church, Dr Paul Thelakkat, dismissed Sister Jesme's allegations as a "book of trivialities". "It's her experiences, but these are things that might creep into a society of communal living," he said. Asked if the church would be shocked by the allegations, he replied: "Absolutely not. The church knows about these things."


Isaac suggests: 

IGIf the abuse victims i.e. affected nuns / novices think by complaining to their superiors their problems would be solved and the culprits would be brought to the book, they would be running after a mirage or to call a spade a  space, living in a fools’ paradiseChurch justice system is very weird.  It believes 99.5% in subversion of justice and 0.05% in dispensation of justice, that too when the victim is about to reach his/her grave! For, it is in the nature of Superiors and Bishops to look the other way – as if nothing has happened.  Their first attempt is to destroy evidence and then behave like an ostrich.  The system itself facilitates the escape of the abuser (as the Bishop did to the Seminarian to give him more photo opportunities in Rome!) and punishes the victim for opening her mouth.  Therefore as I mentioned, do not expect any justice from Superiors and Bishops.  Yes one must report the matter but before doing so, the abuser must be hauled up by the victim’s friends and given a good thrashing in public – no half measures.   Only public thrashing and censure would force the church administration sit up and act. Then only the concerned Bishop will be forced to wake up from his slumber and act.  If he does not, then as per Pope Francis’ June 2016 edict, he shall be removed. Period!

Also meeting with a priest in a closed room during spiritual retreats or in the name of guidance and discernment, must at all costs be avoided as it creates an opportunity for for the priest to attempt sexual abuse in the name of "discernment".  After all both are human beings and even a cassock may not  be enough protection in a closed room. So ALL CONSULTATIONS MUST BE DONE IN AN OPEN PARLOUR OR SITTING ROOM OR OPEN LAWN. Learning self-defence from Drukpa nuns is an option which can be seriously considered.

Sister Manju Kulapuram and her fellow nun who was a victim of voyeurism deserve kudos for her courage, persistent follow-up and taking up the bull by the horn.  Her parting shot was to leave her religious order and cut all contact with people associated with her former life as a religious. Secret sexual abuse, lack of transparency and accountability in church finance, are the reasons why vocation is going down. Yet the Church trumpets the Year of Mercy! Mercy for whom, the CORRUPT & THE CULPRITS WHO HAVE INFESTED THE CHURCH?


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