Protect members from sexual harassment: Women major superiors urged


By Jose Kavi


Kochi, Feb. 3, 2019: An advocacy group for Catholic religious has urged major superiors of women’s congregation to ensure that their members are protected against sexual harassment.

The Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace, in a press release on February 3, also asked the superiors to report to “appropriate civil and ecclesial authorities” any crime against their members.

This was the advice given by the Union of International Superiors General (UISG) as well as various papal documents; the Ranchi-based forum reminds the superiors.

The press release was issued in response to the guidelines issued by the Permanent Synod of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, through a circular dated January 18, to ensure “discipline” within the Church.

“There is a legitimate apprehension among the faithful that with such diktats, the concept of the Church as the People of God is gradually being eroded,” regrets the press release that was endorsed by 78 priests, nuns, brothers and lay people in India.

They underscore that the Church is the body of Christ where freedom, fraternity and equality among members as well as servant leadership are cherished values.

“Sadly, the recent happenings in the Church and the present attitude of the Bishop’s synod do not reflect this self-understanding of the Church as seen in the teachings of Vatican II and explicitly shown by Pope Francis through his prophetic words and example,” the press release says.

The forum also asserts that “religious vows are not bonds of slavery as the circular seems to convey, but are diadems signifying freedom and liberation from human limitations.”

The full text of the press release:


Press Release

We, the members of the Forum for Justice and Peace (FORUM), who number around 500 women and men Religious across the country, along with other individuals, organizations* and movements* in the Church, express serious concern about the contents of the guidelines issued by the Permanent Synod of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, through its Circular Prot No 0127/2019 dated Jan 18, 2019 to ensure “discipline” within the Church.

There is a legitimate apprehension among the faithful that with such diktats, the concept of the Church as the People of God is gradually being eroded. The Church is the body of Christ, where freedom, fraternity and equality among members as well as servant leadership are cherished values. Sadly, the recent happenings in the Church and the present attitude of the Bishop’s synod do not reflect this self understanding of the Church as seen in the teachings of Vatican II and explicitly shown by Pope Francis through his prophetic words and example. Canon law needs to be interpreted and applied in the light of the ever evolving self understanding of the Church today.

The tone and content of the Circular issued by the Major Archbishop wholly ignores the developments in secular civil society where the Church exists and its members live and carry on their mission. Affirmation of human dignity of every individual person, right to equality and equal opportunity without any discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, region and sex and freedom of expression and right to privacy and freedom from exploitation, including sexual exploitation of women and children, are key elements of the Indian Constitution and are the cherished fundamental values in society today. Religious Vows are not bonds of slavery as the circular seems to convey, but are diadems signifying freedom and liberation from human limitations.

In the light of the above, the premises under which the circular has been issued seem misconceived and baseless and the directions given are non workable and retrograde. The Church is not a platoon commanded by a captain, but a living organism animated by the Holy Spirit who dwells in the heart of every Christian and prompts him/her to ever greater oblations on the altar of love. We strongly feel that the effort to deny priests and Religious their fundamental right to freedom of expression and suppress protests against injustice and crime would be counterproductive and the authorities would also stand in danger of being accused of and prosecuted for complicity and abetment of crime.

We request and demand that the Church in unequivocal terms announce zero tolerance towards crime especially sexual harassment of children and vulnerable adults. We also request all Major Superiors of Women’s Congregations to ensure that their members are protected against sexual harassment and commission of any crime against their members be reported to appropriate civil and ecclesial authorities for effective action as has also been advised by the Union of International Superiors General (UISG) as well as in the various Papal documents.

We also demand that the authorities establish an independent tribunal in the Church along the lines of National Human Rights Commission and as suggested by the CBCI Guidelines to deal with Sexual Harassment at Work Place. Such a commission could be headed by a retired Judicial Officer and include men and women of known probity and learning. The arrangement however would not detract from the duty of every citizen to report commission of any grievous crime to civil authorities.

We believe that the Religious as well as the faithful have to collaborate and cooperate with the clergy and hierarchy in the mission of Jesus to realize the Reign of God, without being subservient to the hierarchy. The language, content and tone of the Circular does not indicate a mature response to the challenges faced by the Church in the present world but a panic reaction and a desperate attempt to hide the dirt under the torn carpet and continue as though nothing has changed over the centuries.

The Circular gives an impression that the concerned Church authorities want to penalize persons who fight against the systems and structures that perpetuate injustice and oppression within and outside the Church and defend the rights of the poor, the innocent, voiceless and underprivileged sections of the society especially women and children who are most vulnerable.

At this juncture we are faced with many challenges. We would expect the authorities to inspire and lead the faithful to confront the challenges and not run away from them and hide behind a façade of ‘discipline and order’. As followers of Jesus, all members of the Church need to be committed to proclaim liberation to the poor, oppressed, and marginalized and empower them to live a dignified life.

Let us together denounce all forms of oppression and suppression of the poor and marginalized and hunt down the vultures and wolves that kill and destroy as agents of the evil one. Let us dream together, leaving behind the chains and lockups of fear and prejudice and go ahead in solidarity and freedom in the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim and witness before the whole world the fullness of life as children of God.

Endorsed by:
1. Adv. Albert Joseph – Kerala
2. Adv. Bro. K J Markose SG-FORUM, Jharkhand
3. Adv. Fr. K.M. Joseph S.J- FORUM, Bihar
4. Adv. Jose Joseph Arayakunnel- Kerala
5. Adv. Sr. Agnes Almeida DHM, FORUM, Gujarat
6. Adv. Sr. Alice SJC- FORUM, Karnataka
7. Adv. Sr. Julie George SSpS-FORUM, Maharashtra
8. Adv. Sr. Lissy Joseph SCCG- FORUM, NWM, Telangana
9. Adv. Sr. Sunita CJ – FORUM, Uttar Pradesh
10. Adv. Sr. Tessy Paul MSI- FORUM, Telangana
11. Adv. Sr. Violet BS – FORUM, Maharashtra
12. Adv. Varghese Parambil-Kerala
13. Anita Cheria – NWMI, IWTF, Karnataka
14. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala – Satyashodak, ICWM, IWTF, Maharashtra
15. Bro. C.M Joseph SG – Jharkhand
16. Bro. Jacob SG – FORUM, Jharkhand
17. Bro. M.K. Devassy SG- FORUM, Assam
18. Bro. Mathew SG- Montfort Spirituality Centre, Karnataka
19. Bro. Varghese Theckanath SG-FORUM, CHATRI, Telangana
20. Christine Skinner Lazares, Ex MLA, Hyderabad, Telangana
21. Fr. Anand IMS – FORUM, Uttar Pradesh
22. Fr. Antony Thekkiniyath Ofm cap- FORUM, Maharashtra
23. Fr. AXJ.Bosco SJ- FORUM, Andhra Pradesh
24. Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ-Human Rights activist, FORUM, Gujarat
25. Fr. Devassy SDB- FORUM, Karnataka
26. Fr. Joseph Mattam SJ- professor emeritus of theology, FORUM, Gujarat
27. Fr. KM Sebastian Ofm Cap- FORUM, Andhra Pradesh
28. Fr. Mathew Korattiyil SVD- FORUM, Maharashtra
29. Fr. Neetilal IMS – FORUM, Uttar Pradesh
30. Fr. Philip Manthara SJ – FORUM, Bihar
31. Fr. Rasal Xess, FORUM, Odisha
32. Fr. Roy Thomas SVD- FORUM, Madhya Pradesh
33. Fr. Varghese Manimala Ofm cap – FORUM, Andhra Pradesh
34. George Varghese- Kerala
35. Jerom Puthuserry – Kerala
36. Jessica Prakash-Richard, ICWM, Tamil Nadu.
37. Jose Menacherry- Kerala
38. Kochurani Abraham – ICWM, IWTF, Kerala
39. Marcia DCunha-ICWM, Commission for Women – Archdiocese if Bombay,
40. Margaret Gonsalves – IWTF, Maharashtra
41. Mercy Varghese Parambil- Kerala
42. Nalini Nayak – IWTF, Kerala
43. Rachael Alphonso – Satyashodak, IWTF, ICWM, Maharashtra
44. Romeo Mannaraprayil- Kerala
45. Shilpha Stephen-Kerala
46. Sr. Amala SND – FORUM, Jharkhand
47. Sr. Ann Moyalan SCN- FORUM, Andhra Pradesh
48. Sr. Anna SJC-FORUM, Jharkhand
49. Sr. Annie Jaise CMC- FORUM, Kerala
50. Sr. Basanti Lakra SCN – FORUM, Bihar
51. Sr. Jessin SJC -FORUM, Karnataka
52. Sr. Joel SCN – Social Activist, FORUM, Jharkhand
53. Sr. Jyoti SMMI – FORUM, Bihar
54. Sr. Jyotisha SND -FORUM, Bihar
55. Sr. Kokila Parmar SChSA- FORUM, Delhi
56. Sr. Lancia Rodrigues PBVM- FORUM, Tamil Nadu
57. Sr. Lisa Pires PBVM- FORUM, Goa
58. Sr. Manisha SCN- FORUM, Delhi
59. Sr. Manju Kulapuram SCSC- FORUM, Jharkhand
60. Sr. Mariamma Kalathil FMM- FORUM, Kerala
61. Sr. Mary James MCJ – FORUM, Gujarat
62. Sr. Noel Rose CMC – ICWM, Kerala
63. Sr. Noella MCJ – ICWM, Maharashtra
64. Sr. Philomina Thomas RA –IWTF, Maharashtra
65. Sr. Philu D’Souza FMA – IWTF, Maharashtra
66. Sr. Poonam CJ – FORUM, Bihar
67. Sr. Prabha SND- FORUM, Jharkhand
68. Sr. Rita Puthenkalam SCN – IWTF, Tamil Nadu
69. Sr. Rosammal ICM- FORUM, Uttar Pradesh
70. Sr. Shanti RSCJ- FORUM, Maharashtra
71. Sr. Stella Kujur MCJ- FORUM, Jharkhand
72. Sr. Sudha CJ – FORUM, Bihar
73. Sr. Thresiamma Mathew OMMI – ICWM, Kerala
74. Sr. Urmila ICM- FORUM, Tamil Nadu
75. Sr. Valsa MMS- FORUM, Tamilnadu
76. Sr. Veena SHM- FORUM, Uttar Pradesh
77. Teena Xavier- Social Activist, Karnataka
78. Virginia Saldanha – IWTF, ICWM, Maharashtra

*Abbreviations:
IWTF- Indian Women Theologians Forum
ICWM- Indian Christian women’s Movement
CHATRI – Campaign for Housing and Tenurial Rights
NWM – National Workers Movement
NWMI – Network of Women in Media India

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5 thoughts on “Protect members from sexual harassment: Women major superiors urged

  1. If we want to bring in civil rules, “ consensual” is not a crime and not punishable. So we can follow civil rules to avoid investigations etc. We can remove such “ consensual” from the category of sins.

  2. Women religious should be protected by the major superiors against sexual harassment. But what about the religious women who willingly flirt with priests? What about consensual relationships? The Forum is silent on this aspect.

  3. Don’t expect much from the ecclesiastical authorities. Sexual harassment is a CRIME and must be treated as such taking recourse to the law enforcement and judicial system of the country.

  4. Better late than never! I welcome the initiative taken by the Forum of Religious for Peace and Justice endorsed by 78 members. A few questions I wish to throw before the Forum:

    1) Why is the Forum expressing serious concern pertaining ONLY about the contents of the guidelines issued by the Permanent Synod of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, through its Circular Prot No 0127/2019 dated Jan 18, 2019 to ensure “discipline” within the Church?

    2) What was the Forum’s response when the rape victim and her colleagues were on the streets of Kerala demanding the arrest of Bishop Franco?

    3) Did the Form speak in support of the sisters who were voicing against their “compulsory transfers” mainly to “silence them”?

    4) Did any of the Forum members appreciate the letter written by Swami Agnivesh (about the sexual abuse within the church and the transfers) to the Pope? OR did the Forum take the initiative to write to the Pope about this matter?

    5) What steps did the Forum take against Bishop Franco who went back to his diocese after he came out of the jail/custody?

    6) The Forum has made this statement: “Let us together denounce all forms of oppression and suppression of the poor and marginalized and hunt down the vultures and wolves that kill and destroy as agents of the evil one.” What is the effort being made by the Forum to hunt down vultures like Bishop Franco or other priests who “hit and hide” (rape women/nuns and escape)?

    7) Having worked with many women religious congregations, it has been my personal experience that many sisters, who do not own any important portfolio, are HARASSED by those in power. Almost every Superior General/Provincial/Superior is aware of this “oppressed” situation within but they do very little about it. Why is this SUDDEN PREACHING and for whom?

    It is time for the members of the Forum to do sincere introspection and take serious steps to bring about the desired changes. CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME.

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