Sunday, April 25, 2010

AN UNHOLY MESS: CLERICAL ABUSE OF WOMEN IN INDIA

It is such a beautiful spring day today here in Prague and I experienced such a moving and mystical Eucharist this morning at the beautiful little baroque church of St. John of Nepomuk 'On the Rock' behind my house, that it seems a shame to sully the purity of the day with another scandalous tale of sex abuse in the Church. But these stories coming out of India are important in all of their horror and monstrosity because they involve women rather than young boys, and reveal a degree of violence and torture inflicted on women that we have not seen in the cases involving male youth. This, in my opinion, is the real underbelly of the sex abuse scandal, the unholy tale that has yet to be told - the horrendous abuse of nuns by priests that is going to make the abuse of young boys look like kindergarten pranks by comparison (an exaggeration to be sure). What strikes me immediately about these tales, and others like them coming out of Africa,  is the disparity in the level of violence imposed upon female victims in contrast to male victims, as if women are the recipients of a more cynical form of manipulation, domination and contempt. Boys can be  dominated, manipulated, abused...but only up to a certain point, when their sacred maleness protects them from the worst excesses of abuse of women. An editorial generalization on my part, of course, but there it is. I'm reminded of a line from Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather Part III, which he puts into the mouth of the saintly cardinal (modeled on Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I. "Great goodness always attracts great evil." Indeed. 

For my more positive and more hopeful thoughts of the day,  inspired by this morning's Eucharist, I've written a reflection for the progressive blog Open Tabernacle which I hope to post later today.

from India Today

The sex scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church from the Americas to Europe may have hogged international headlines, but for Kerala, cases of rape and sexual abuse by priests and nuns, and attempts by the church to brush such cases under the carpet, have had a history of recurring as media stories.

Sex is taboo for nuns in all Christian denominations and for priests in most of them. Yet a section violates this rule with impunity, even resorting to murder to silence the voices that may blow the whistle. And in most such cases in Kerala, the church has had no qualms in flexing its financial, religious and political muscles to shield the black sheep from the law of the land. The Sister Abhaya case is a classic example.

According to the CBI, Sister Abhaya, a 17-year-old college student in Kottayam, had inadvertently stumbled upon the tryst of Father Jose Poothrikkayil, Father Thomas Koottoor and Sister Sephy at the St Pius X Convent on March 2, 1992. Apprehensive of the consequences, the trio killed Sister Abhaya, hitting her with an axe on the head and throwing her body in the convent's well. The Church tried its best to hush up the case and succeeded to an extent as it took 16 years for the investigating agencies to make the first arrests-the accused were nabbed on November 19, 2008. Further investigations, however, have hit roadblocks. Even after the arrests, the Church has not stripped the accused of their rights and privileges. On the contrary, it has fought strongly on behalf of the three. Consider this: The copies of the CD of the trio's narco-analysis were mysteriously leaked and shown on television. Again, a crucial prosecution witness, an assistant sub-inspector, was found dead a week after the arrests. And Sister Sephy has moved the Mumbai High Court against the medical finding that her hymen had been surgically re-implanted. Says Jomon Puthenpurcakkal, the activist who has relentlessly fought for justice for Sister Abhaya, "The church uses all its resources to protect its people from any heinous crime. The real world behind its shining walls is a trash pit." 

Yet another case of the church's defence of its violators is that of Father Benedict, a Roman Catholic priest who was arrested in the late 1960s in connection with the murder of a young woman. The local sessions court had awarded him five years' rigorous imprisonment. The Church, however, hired the services of one of the most expensive Supreme Court lawyers then, to argue Father Benedict's case in the High Court. The court acquitted the accused and till he died a few years ago, the Church took care of him. Such instances abound.

Another case, which is almost as well-known as that of Sister Abhaya, is that of the suicide of Sister Anupa Mary, resident of St Mary's Convent, Kollam, on August 11, 2008. Her suicide note stated that she was ending her life due to the sexual harassment she had faced at the hands of a senior nun. In a fit of originality, the convent's mother superior denied the allegation, stating that the nuns slept in a cubicle that was only six-feet high, so it was "impossible" to abuse her sexually.

In yet another shocking incident dating back to October 2008, a 60-year-old nun of the Congregation of Daughters of Mary Convent at Anchal near Kollam had alleged that young nuns from the convents were being forced to have abortions. The nun is now in a mental hospital at Thodupuzha in Idukki district. Her nephew alleges that she has been forcibly admitted to the hospital by the convent authorities. A nun who has gone public with such allegations is Sister Jesme, who quit the holy order after 33 years of service to it to expose the wrongdoings within the church through her book, Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun.

The 53-year-old Jesme, who was the principal of a leading women's college managed by the church, has given explicit details of sexual encounters that nuns face almost daily. She writes in the book: "At a retreat for novices, I noticed that girls in my batch were unsettled about going to the confession chamber. I found that the priest there asked each girl if he could kiss them. I gathered courage and went in. He repeated the question. When I opposed, he quoted from the Bible which spoke of divine kisses." In yet another instance, she discloses: "I was sent to teach plus-two students at St Maria College. There, a new sister joined to teach Malayalam; she was a lesbian. She would come to my bed in the night and do lewd acts and I couldn't stop her.' A recall of a priest's sexual overture towards her is the most shocking: "Back in his room, he tried to fondle me and when I resisted, he got up and asked angrily if I had seen a man. When I said no, he stripped himself, ejaculated and forced me to strip." 

Sister Jesme equates the Church with a greedy father who does not marry off his daughters and does not allow his sons to marry as well. What is disturbing, however, is the Church's defence of acts it prohibits when committed by the upholders of its values and virtues.

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