Thiruvananthapuram, Jan. 11: Catholic priests and nuns who have hung up their robes following differences with the Church will meet in Kochi in late February demanding social acceptance and protection, in what is possibly a first.
A Syro-Malabar Catholic Church spokesperson welcomed the move but said there was no provision to pay maintenance to former priests or former nuns.
"Hundreds of priests and nuns have left priesthood and nunhood as they feel stifled in their pursuit of truth. But sad to say, they are left to Nature's mercy without their families or the society for support. And with no monetary backing either, they lead a miserable existence," said Reji Njallani, the convener of the February 28 event.
The "national seminar" is being conducted under the auspices of the Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement (KCRM), an organisation of faithful based out of Pala in Kottayam district. KCRM state secretary-general K.K. Jose Kandathil told The Telegrapha 101-member reception committee had been drawn up with ex-priest K.P. Shibu Kalamparambil as the vice-chairman.
"In many cases, boys and girls are put into seminaries even before they have the mental maturity to decide for themselves. Some stick to it for the rest of their lives while others quit," said Shibu.
"By then, their families would already have shunned them and their kin would have divided their properties. Monthly earnings, if any, during the life in Church have to be contributed to the Church. As such, they are left with nothing to fall back on to take their lives forward once they drop out. Over and above, they face social boycott as leaving nunneries and priesthood is portrayed as something sinful," he added.
"Canon law requires the Church to pay such people who decide to quit so that they can take care of the rest of their lives. But this does not happen and instead they are treated as sinners," he said, adding the point of the convention was to find a solution to such problems.
Shibu continued: "The Church must discuss the problems of ex-nuns and ex-priests, find ways to support them, allow the priests to marry as this will check sexual indiscipline to a large extent and fix a five-year term for the nuns so that they can decide whether to continue in service or choose their own path."
The convention will also draw up plans for a retirement home where nuns and priest who bow out of their order "can rest for six months or so till they can find an alternate vocation to carry on with their lives", he added.
Shibu left the Vincentian congregation in 2010 after 24 years – 13 years as seminarian and 11 years as priest – alleging sexual anarchy and corruption among the clergy.
His "experiences" were published as a book, Here is the Heart of a Priest, which came to be widely discussed in the mediaa congregation of nuns under the Catholic Church,, of whom "60 had already confirmed attendance". The requisite permissions had already been obtained, he said.
Reacting to the event, Syro-Malabar Church spokesperson Pautl Thelakat emailed this newspaper: "Priests who have left priesthood and nuns who have left the convents are faithful to the Church. The Church considers them dear to the Church. It is always good that they flock together and think together their own issues as well as the matters of the Church as responsible members of the Church and help the Church in whatever way they still can."
On the demand for giving them maintenance, he said: "As I understand, when a priest is in the period of suspension on enquiry, they must be maintained by the diocese or congregation concerned. But when they are laicised, there is no such provision."