Catholic Church and Gender issue – a major concern


Sister Jessy Kurian
Last few years the Supreme Court is progressively questioning patriarchy in religions to ensure emancipation for women. CJI Dipak Misra belled the proverbial cat when he wrote in his main opinion in Sabarimala case, that “historically’ women have been treated unequally, no philosophy has so far conceived the large population of this country to open up and accept women as equal partners in the journey of spirituality”. The Court said that ban on women, based on their menstrual status, considering them as “polluted” and a distraction for worshippers vowed to celibacy, is a form of untouchability.

Justice Misra allowed Goolrokh Gupta, a Parsi woman, who married outside her faith, to pray at the Tower of Silence for her departed father. Justice Misra’s Court referred the practice of female circumcision of khafz, prevalent in the Dawoodi Bohra sect to a Constitution Bench to see whether it amounts to “female genital mutilation” and is a violation of women’s right to life and dignity.

CJI Thakur was strong in its objective to realise the equal status of women in religion. In 2016 a Bench led by him drew a parallel between the restriction on women worshipping in Sabarimala temple and Mumbai’s famed Haji Ali Dargah. CJI Thakur had observed the the ‘exclusion’ is practised by both Hindus and Muslims and the problem needs to be addressed. Immediately thereafter the Dargah Trust resolved to allow women to enter the sactum sacctorum of the dargah “at par with men”.

On 22nd August 2017 CJI Khehar declared the triple talaq unconstitutional and anti-Quran. Justice Kurian Joseph, on the Constitution Bench, held, “Triple talaq is against the basic tenets of the Holy Quran, and consequently, it violates Shariat”

However gender equality is a far dream in religions as they are dominated by patriarchy. Church is of no exception.

Rising sexual abuse in Indian Church now has become a “gender issue” than a sex issue.

Is Catholic Church in India losing its credibility on one ground on ‘silence’ and other ground on lack of machinery to tackle the sex abuse in the Church?. In recent development in Catholic Church, instead of finding a remedy to put out the fire, the leadership began blaming the women fold/nun fold in the church for raising their voice for justice

A nun belonging to the Catholic congregation of Missionaries of Jesus in Jalandhar had lodged a police complaint on 28th June 2018 against Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal alleging that he had raped her 13 times since 2014 at a convent in Kerala. (Let law take its course). However it is said that the alleged victim had knocked at the doors of many Church leaders for justice but the response was only ‘silence’. This long silence prompted the alleged victim along with justice loving citizens, men and women to go to the street to claim her right to live with human dignity as any other Indian woman as she is the full fledged citizen of India having equal rights. The prolonged nature of the duress and the establishment’s lack of rigour in pursuing the case also enraged the public.

Here, the matter is nothing but ‘gender issue’. If the alleged accused is a priest or a Bishop pulpits, sermons, retreat centres, Diocesan circulars, Catholic Magazines all will turn to be in defense of the accused as seen right now. But not when it comes to a nun even if she is the alleged victim.

It is first time in the history of the Indian Church nuns/women came out to the street for justice. Undisputedly Church which is patriarchal cannot agree with the women uprising and women leadership. The attitude is clear as in every religion or more, that women should be submissive to men. If not they are branded as – ‘against Church’, against ‘Jesus’, ‘devils work’, ‘black mass’ etc.

It is unfortunate that the Kerala Church leadership condemning the act of nuns/women at Vanchi Square near Kerala High Court where they exercised their fundamental right to express

Coming to the street and claiming rights is not a first time event in the history of the Church. Priests, Bishops, even Cardinals along with nuns, men and women have protested in public in various issues. I myself participated in very many protests in various parts of India for different social cause along with them. In the matter of Unnao rape , Kathua rape , Nirbhaya rape we protested together. For the release of Fr.Tom we protested at Jantar Matar. Many of us even courted arrest on 5th February, 2014 in protest against attack on Delhi Churches.

However when nuns/women in the Church raised their voice, matter took a different turn. The nuns and all who participated are condemned as “devils and against the Church”.

I as a nun not only courted arrest in Delhi and protested for Church causes, when some minority educational institutions were attacked in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, I was called by the Church authority to protest against such attack and to address the press conference on ‘Educational Rights of Minorities’ against the harassment meted out by the people and the Govt departments. When it comes to religious rights and minority rights, I help my community in various capacities. My visit to Vanchi Square, will it make me suddenly “anti-Jesus”, anti-Church”? The huge crowd gathered there, were activists from various parts of the country and justice loving citizens from different walks of life. Priests and nuns who visited the spot are the true followers of Jesus Christ

Patriarchal mindset is explicit again when Sister Lucy Kalapura, who has been protesting in public in solidarity with the alleged victim nun has been asked to stop church activities in her parish in Vayanadu, northern Kerala. However, justice loving parishioners broke into the church office and forced the concerned authorities to withdraw the oral orders prohibiting sister Lucy from church activities.

It seems, it is not the sexual misconduct of Church men and the disrepute that brings to the institution that is disturbing, but the fact that nuns/women are coming out of their convents and taking to the streets in solidarity with the victim of an alleged crime.

“Better to be later than never”. Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of Faridanabd Diocese, Delhi, came out in solidarity with the victim on 2nd October 2018 as he was addressing the annual Santhome Bible Convention at Tyagaraja Stadium in Delhi. He justified the strike of the nuns as a cause for justice and truth. He recalled that it is not the first time that the Church goes to the street for its causes. In the past, Archbishop of Trishur Mar Joseph Kundukuam, had called for a strike and public rally against the controversial Drama “the sixth wound of Jesus Christ”. In Trivandrum an Archbishop addressed the gathering at a strike pavilion in his own diocese. At Jantar Mantar a dharna was organised for the release of Fr.Tom SDB (where Bishop Kuriakose was also there) . He continued “We are in the land of Mahatma Gandhi, promoter of Sathyagraha and the only condition is our strike should be of non-violence”. He urged the gathering that the faith should not be built on “role-models” of this or that priest or bishop or sisters. The foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ.

These nuns/women are first and foremost the citizens of India. Right to express is their human and fundamental right. One joins the convent to serve humanity in a wider way, to bring good news to the poor, to stand for justice. That does not mean nun-hood should be in the slavery of blind obedience and blind submissiveness. These are only to suppress a woman to exploit her to the maximum. Kerala High Court has rightly said in “Thomas Kochery vs. Bar Council of Kerala” that priest-hood or nun-hood is a life-style just as marriage. However both demand a different role.

It is pertinent to note the situation that dragged the nuns to the street for justice.

It seems no Church authority in India has jurisdiction over a Bishop.

However, when three bishops (in Kochi, Berelly, North East) got into controversy the Church took immediate action. Hence media was not given an opportunity to celebrate nor people to protest. But why was the Church silent in the present case is a big question.

I feel there must be a Committee under CBCI to look into or investigate the matter immediately when certain problem arises either to take action or to report to the authority in Rome at the earliest. There must be a machinary in Rome too to take immediate action

Church cannot keep silence stating ‘no authority’ to take action. In wrong doings of the Church men, Church should own vicarious liability. Lately they say, the alleged victim nun has not complained to the competent authority of the Church. Well, at times the competent courts in India take matters ‘suo motu’ in the interest of justice/nation. Same way Church should intervene suo motu in the interest of justice/Church. Failure on the part of the church to tackle a problem may aggravate the situation and may cause anyone ‘fish in the muddy water’.

Church has no machinery to address the grievances of the faithful including priests and nuns. There must be a Grievance Cell at Diocesan level and appellate body at CBCI level.

Cell should comprise of a lawyer, a social activist, a human rights activist,etc.There can be a Retired High Court judge as the Chairperson of the Diocesan Cell and a Retired Supreme Court Judge as the Chairperson of CBCI Cell . Equal representation of men and women, a priest or Bishop and a nun should be there in both Cells. In nutshell these Cells should be comprised of laity other than Church men (Just a suggestion). These Cells can be a platform where a nun/priest/laity can address the grievances

There is Bishop’s circular (idayalekhanam) to express the views/ statements / ideas/policies of the Bishops (Church). Many laity feel that presently there is no such means for the laity to express their views or ideas. As we are the citizens of the biggest democracy in the world we need to have such means to uphold the right to express in diocesan level, parish level and CBCI level

Another problem is “jurisdiction”. More than one lakh nuns and about 40,000 (approximately) priests are there in India (including bishops). Many nuns and priests are born and baptised in Syro-Malabar Rite. But they joined a Latin Rite congregation/Order/Diocese. If any problem arises between a nun who, joined the Latin Congregation and a priest/Bishop in Syro-Malabar, which Bishop has the jurisdiction?. Where shall the nun file a complaint? and vice –versa. Does the Bishop in whose diocese the nun is baptised have no jurisdiction?. Matters should be made clear for the easy addressing of the redressal.

We are in a conflicting society. Religion is part of that society. Hence Church has to stand up to the signs of the time. It has to uphold the human dignity and rights of men and women equally. “One who has not committed the crime, throw the first stone at her.” Saying so, Jesus has established a revolution of Gender Justice in the society. Let us not forget the alleged accused Bishop and the alleged victim nun in the rape case are equal children of God, equal members of the Church.

Sr.Jessy Kurian (Advocate Supreme Court and Former Member, National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Govt of India and President Citizen’s Rights Trust (An NGO to promote Human Rights
And Women Empowerment. She can be contacted Email: lawyering5@gmail.com, Mob:8745050396)

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2 thoughts on “Catholic Church and Gender issue – a major concern

  1. Well said At Jessy. I have long advocated the need for a Grievance Redressal mechanism and the Right to Information in the Catholic Church

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