Kochi: An Italy-based Catholic religious congregation for women has set a new trend in the Indian Church by monetarily helping a former member settle down in life.
“The Agatha Sisters were generous enough to give her 12 Lakhs (1.2 million) rupees,” Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church who mediated between the former nun and the congregation, told Matters India on Monday.
The decision to pay the former nun, who uses the one name of Anitha, was taken at a conciliation meeting on Sunday held at St Joseph’s Church, Snehapuram Church Road, Aluva, in Kerala.
Anitha’s immediate relatives and Jose Maveli, chairperson of Janaseva Sisubhavan, an orphanage where the former nun had taken refuge, also attended the meeting.
As per the terms of the settlement, Anitha has to return her religious dress and claims to be a member of the congregation. she had refused to give up her religious life after she was expelled from the congregation.
She had earlier threatened to hold a sit-in outside her convent – the Sisters of St. Agatha convent in Aluva near Kochi – which had refused to take her back on her return from Italy on February 20.
“One fact remains that (Anitha) spent more than 20 years in two congregations and now she back in the world where she wants some help to settle herself,” Father Thelakat explained the Church’s decision to help the former nuns.
Anitha had reportedly alleged that she was tortured and expelled from her convent for resisting the advances of a priest.
Father Thelakat dismissed the allegation and said the media stories that added sexual color to the controversy were “totally untrue.”
Father Thelakat told the Telegraph newspaper that the former nun had not told him about any torture in the convent.
“The convent authorities took a decision that she is not fit for a convent life. The same congregation is giving her some help to settle her in life. The stories of torture and sexual harassment are not at all true and she does not hold any such grievances,” Thelekkat said.
He said the Church’s offered her help because although “she is out of the convent she is a daughter of the Church and the Church has some responsibilities to her.”
However, reformation campaigners in Kerala claimed that this was the first time the Church paid an expelled nun. There have been reports of child abuse victims being compensated in other countries.
Reji Njallani, the Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement convener who had fought alongside the nun, said: “This is perhaps the first time in history that the Church is paying compensation to a nun. I’m happy that we could achieve at least this much.”
But a rights activist once associated with the Church has questioned the settlement.
“The Church may claim it is a living allowance, but in reality it is to seal the nun’s mouth – to ensure that she does not speak out any more,” said Jesme, a former nun who had walked out of her congregation Church in 2008, alleging “physical and mental abuse.”
“Even when I quit, well-wishers had advised me to ask for compensation. But I think the honor of a woman who dedicated herself to a spiritual life in the faith that it was safe is worth much more than a few lakhs of rupees,” she added.
Media reports earlier quoted Anitha as alleging that her ordeal began when she resisted the sexual advances of the priest while she was working in Madhya Pradesh in 2011.
She was subsequently transferred to Mother House in Italy in May 2012.
According to her, she faced physical and mental harassment from the convent authorities while in Italy. “There were days when I was not given food. After a series of mental and physical torture, I was thrown out of the convent in Italy on February 19,” she alleged.
When she tried to stay in Italy, with the help of a nun known to her, the congregation authorities bought her an air ticket to Kochi, Sr Anitha said. Back in Kerala she was denied entry to the Sisters of Agata convent in Thottakkattukara, Aluva.
Anitha, a native of Kannur district, joined the congregation in 2007.
The Congregation of Sisters of St.Agata was founded by Sr. Vittoria Giorni in 1820 at Genova in Italy. In 1934, the semi-contemplative congregation was opened up as an active congregation.
The congregation aims to support poor young girls and the aged. Its first house in India was set up in Ujjain diocese, Madhya Pradesh, in 1985 to educate rural children and promote the standard of living among villagers through rehabilitation work.
The congregation’s charism in the Church is to promote and serve the unwanted people spiritually and physically by giving them a sound education and necessary help.