By Saji Thomas
National Catholic Reporter, USA
12 March 12, 2019
Cover photo: Holy Spirit Sr. Lizy Thomas (third from left) shares the stage with other women at an International Women's Day celebration in Bhopal, central India. (Saji Thomas)
Note: If the Catholic church in India has any name and fame, the lion’s share of it should go the thousands of sisters who sweat and toil like slaves serving the poor, sick and lonely, imitating the towering example of St Teresa of Calcutta. Yet they are the most exploited lot, by the priests whom they trust, work with or serve.
Salute to Sisters!
Yes, this whole news item and commentary is published precisely to salute our Indian Sisters, treated so step motherly by the hierarchical Excellencies!
In today’s worldwide horror called, clergy sex abuse, they are the ones sinned against by the priestly predators. Even after ever so many revelations, the Catholic church in India, especially the Syromalabar variety continues, to blame the Sisters, the victims, abused by the priestly Lords. I have been and am still in contact with many sisters.
3 Nuns and 1 brother priest
My own three younger sisters are nuns, all three working in Northern states, two of them B.Sc. nurses, one from the Philippines and a second from USA, two of them provincials in two different congregations, youngest sister still provincial, and a younger brother a priest in AP. I gave them all the bad example, to quit after announcing it in Catholic papers, to become “a renegade from the priesthood”, no regrets though. So I am rather well informed of the kind of work they do and the treatment they get from priests.
As a young editor of the New Leader in Chennai, one of the earth-shaking small news published – unfortunately it came out as banner headline in the front page — was KERALA GIRLS SOLD ABROAD! Readers could neither swallow or spit it out. It was written by “Our Correspondent” in Italy, who was secretary to Chennai (my own) Archbishop and doing doctorate in Rome. All the facts were very very correct. Nobody questioned me about the identity of the writer though alive, but not revealed to the public till now.
Notorious & Famous!
That is how New Leader became notorious and famous, “raised up for the rise and fall of many in Israel” and the editor shivering in his boots being a coward, but honest. How many of our Catholic publications today have the dare-devil courage to speak the bitter truth from house tops? The National Catholic Repoter (NCR) in Kansas,US has it and I visited their office while studying journalism in US.
One of the enticing baits used to attract young girls from Kerala and Tamil Nadu was ads like: “Thalia? , Italia?” (Want to get married soon or go to Italy? to become a sister) The main recruiting centre was in Ettumanoor run by very holy reverent priests. Connected were many tickling stories!
Indian bishops Incorrigible!
From the time of Pope’s Chille cleansing last February, we, in Church Citizens' Voice had been writing to all Indian bishops and higher authorities that Pope should take the initiative to do similar “temple-cleansing” in India with no response from anyone. From lived experience we can assure you that it will never happen in the next 50 years on Indian bishops’ initiative.
Even before the Rome Summit we had repeatedly asked Indian bishops to meet and talk with victims of sex abuse but none did. They did just the opposite, took more punishing actions against the Victim sisters. Oswald Gracias of Bombay used to be more progressive among bishops. But even he did not meet any. But I read reports in International press that he was inimical to victims who wanted to meet and talk to them. So don’t have any hope from Indian Bishops. Ignore them and do something on your own!
Give wings to Global Sisters!
What is published below: “Global Sisters report” by Shaji Thomas is a project of the NCR. So I need not speak much, the report itself is frankly speaking. This report is published as a tribute to all the exploited sisters all over India.
Read the report by Saji Thomas in NCR, USA, but react loudly to predator priests and bishops who cover themselves with their blanket silence and hide in their holes like rats, or continue to go on drinking milk like cats closing their eyes. You have to smoke them out of the Church of Constantine! They won’t get out on their own!
Explode by speaking up!
What is vital is to get rooted in Jesus and live His life of bearing witness to truth and taking the consequences as He did.When the seed of fragrance falls to the ground and gets crushed, it gives out its france best. To give out that fagrance EXPLODE from house tops! james kottoor, editor CCV.
Read below NCR Global Sisters Report India
Weeks after Pope Francis' open admission of the issue of clergy abuse of nuns, reaction to his remarks remains muted among Catholics in India, where a progressive group of religious had raised the problem three years ago.
They urge the pope not to stop with identifying the problem but to act firmly against abusers, especially in India, where a bishop has been accused of rape by a former superior general of a diocesan congregation
"Pope Francis gives some hope, but nothing is percolating down," lamented Holy Spirit Sr. Julie George, one of the 75 signatories of a "letter of concern" the Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace sent to all bishops and major superiors in India in February 2016.
The letter brought to light for the first time in India the prevalence of sexual violence against religious women by priests. It bemoaned that the problem went unaddressed, allowing its perpetrators to go unpunished. "This cannot be tolerated anymore," asserted the forum, which said it was forced to write the letter as its analysis of current challenges to religious life revealed issues that needed urgent attention by church leaders.
However, the letter seems to have had little impact in the past three years. The forum and other groups such as Save Our Sisters Action Council allege that Indian church leaders have ignored the nun's complaints against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar.
George, a lawyer, accuses the Indian bishops of ignoring the pope's call to show compassion to the victims of clergy abuse. "Instead, they side with the accused and even try to silence every voice of dissent against them," she told Global Sisters Report.
The church leaders threaten those supporting the alleged rape victim with defamation suits and other tactics, George alleged, referring to a move by the Syro-Malabar Church mid-February to sue the officials of the Save Our Sisters Action Council who had organized a sit-in last September demanding Mulakkal's arrest. Mulakkal has denied the accusations.
Earlier in January, the same Oriental church's Synod of Bishops issued a circular for its more than 5 million members, condemning priests and nuns who had taken to the street demanding justice for the alleged rape victim.George said such action can come only from a mindset that considers bishops as princes of the church.
She also asserted that the Indian church leaders' reluctance to address clergy abuse of nuns could be tackled only if Francis followed up his confession with punitive actions against the abusers.
Changing perceptions of clergy
Virginia Saldanha, a laywoman theologian, agrees. She wants the Vatican to "lay down concrete rules and regulations" to deal with sex abuse cases in the church. She regrets that the Indian bishops have kept under wraps their own guidelines to deal with clerical abuse.
Only those involved in its preparation know its content, she said, adding that the church has done little to address the issue seriously.
However, she said the pope's comments have helped change the perception of those who consider priests and bishops as holy people who can do no wrong.
Referring to the nun rape case, Saldanha said many people still refuse to believe the bishop had raped the sister. People often ask her how a bishop could rape.The pope "has got to do more and we are waiting. Mere talk does not help," Saldanha told GSR.
Sr. Clara Animottil, who works among street children living on railway platforms in central India, finds the church in India "totally biased against nuns" while dealing with clergy sex abuse.
"If a nun gets pregnant, she is forced to leave the congregation, but the priest is shifted to some other place where he leads a comfortable life," Animottil, a member of St. Joseph of Chambery congregation, told GSR.Such actions by church authorities, she said, give the impression that the abuser priest has "a silent license" to do whatever he wants
"Instead of verifying the case with the accused and victim, the church leaders support and protect the accused," she told GSR, referring to prelates who had visited Mulakkal in jail, but never bothered to meet the victim who stayed just 15 kilometers (some 10 miles) away.
'They will speak up'
Thomas agrees the nun rape case has tarnished the church's image in India, but on a positive side, it has taught the clergy that they can no longer take nuns for granted. "They will speak up," she pointed out.
She finds a November statement from the International Union of Superiors General, which urged women religious who have been abused to report it, "a big boost" for nuns, women and children in India to "get away from the culture of silence" that forces the victims of clergy abuse to suffer quietly.
One such emboldened person is Sr. Anupama Kelamangalathuveli, the spokesperson of five nuns who had joined the sit-in for Mulakkal's arrest. She welcomes Francis' confession with reservations, because they had found no support to their fight for justice from the church, including from the Vatican. She wonders if the pope's admission will remain "mere lip service."
"I am sure the pope is well-aware of the sensitive [Mulakkal] case. Instead of punishing the bishop for his crime, we are being persecuted," she told GSR.
Kelamangalathuveli and her four companions have been accused by their superiors of disobedience and flouting convent rules. Four of them had left their convents in different parts of India to stay with the alleged rape victim in Kuravilangad, a town in Kerala, southern India. The superiors have ordered them to return to their assigned convents, but they have refused.
Even nuns of other congregations who supported the rape victim faced troubles from their superiors.
The police in Kerala on Feb. 19 registered a case against four nuns, including a provincial, of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation after a nun complained that the four illegally confined and tortured her for speaking about Mulakkal to investigators without her superiors' knowledge. A court allowed Sr. Lissy Vadakkel to stay in the convent in Kerala, blocking her congregation's move to shift her to another state.
Meanwhile, the Congregation of Mother of Carmel, another Kerala-based order, acted swiftly and directed its members not to cooperate with or react to the protest against Mulakkal.
Even priest supporters of the alleged rape victim have faced problems from their dioceses or congregations.
Fr. Augustine Vattoly of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese had to step down as the convener of the Save Our Sisters Action Council under pressure from his bishop.
A Capuchin priest was asked not to write or discuss the Mulakkal case. A senior Jesuit priest, who wants to be anonymous, said that although he sympathized with the victim nun and her supporters, he could not openly side with her, fearing the bishops' wrath.
'Expose the rogues in public'
Vattoly says the clergy abuse of nuns has rattled the church for a long time. "It is really surprising that the pope has admitted it openly. His processors swept it under the carpet safely and even issued orders to conceal it," he told GSR.
The activist priest wants the entire church to adopt the pope's stand on abuse. He disagrees with church leaders who fear such open admission would damage the church's name.
"This is not true. Unless we expose the rogues in public, the menace of abuse will continue. Their public shaming is one of the best and effective ways to end the exploitation of women and children," he said.
Vattoly sees the pope's admission as "a new beginning" for the church. "It increases the credibility of the church and her leadership, especially among the youth who believe in truth and transparency," he added.
Felix Pulloodan, a layman who took over from Vattoly as the Save Our Sisters convener, regrets the Kerala church's reluctance to admit clergy abuse even after courts convicted and punished several priests.
"Unless the church in Kerala rises to the level of the pope, its survival is in danger," he told GSR.
Fr. Paul Thelakat, chief editor of Sathyadeepam (Light of Truth), a church weekly, agrees with the pope that the recent scandals are God's plan to cleanse the church.
"I am not afraid of this vulnerability bringing shame to our honor and respect. Look at the Bible. It tells stories of sin and salvation. Every scandal is converted to instance of God's grace," Thelakat told GSR.
The Indian church officials seemed guarded in their reaction to the pope's comments.
"The pope has clarified what he wanted to say. Whatever the pope has said is the final word. We don't want to make further interpretations to what the pope has said," Ranchi Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, told GSR.
Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal said the pope has reaffirmed that the Catholic Church is an institution with transparency and responsibility.
The prelate blamed the media for sensationalizing the pope's comments. He said the media coverage has cast aspersions on the clergy at large. It has given "a negative impression about Catholic clergy among people of other religions," he added.
"The way the media presented the reaction of the pope sounds as if he had made a categorical statement. What I understand is that the pope, with his humility, has only accepted the 'exceptional aberrations' in the global church. He is trying to overcome such hurdles within the institution," Cornelio said.
[As per e-mail dated 15th March 2019 received from Jose Kavi, Editor Mattersindia.com, the above article has been produced by Matters India for GSR. Matters India a news portal that focuses on religious and social issues in India. is GSR's India collaborator. Saji Thomas is a freelance journalist based in Bhopal, a central Indian city. He has worked for several mainstream newspapers such as The Times of India].
Published March 16/19, in CCV, Kerala,
On Fri, 15 Mar 2019 at 19:26, hilda raja <email@example.com> wrote:
Dear Dr James we both totally agree with you.Sisters in India are treated worse than slaves by the priests.They must serve them prepare their breakfast and even submit to their sexual pleasures.If reported they are transferred.
It is a sad commentary of women's power-these who work and slog day in and day out.My only sister-in-law is a nun.She is now in B'lore -she joined as a trained nurse.The nuns have no status and only those working in educational institutions have some power.The others do not have any power or voice and status..They are used and misused from being the sacristy rags-polishing and cleaning and all other odd works.
It is they who are used to do all the service work-they are used as a front by the church to project the Church as a great social service institution. Take away the nuns and see how the Church will stand exposed.I fully support the the global sisters report and demand that the Pope must attend to cleansing job and not just indulge in patch work and pious promises.
Stop preaching and get to work.High time that these poor nuns are redeemed.They are voiceless and powerless.Is it not a shame for the Church hierarchy to exploit them and at times treat them as sex workers.Give them a voice and power.This the Pope has to immediately attend too.If the Me too movement is spread among the nuns one will be shocked to realize the hundreds of nuns with their sad stories of sexual exploitation.
Dr Hilda Raja-Vadodara.
It may not be an exaggeration to say that the arrogant Clerical class use these unassuming, self-effacing sisters like toilet tissue paper. But every dog will have their day. j