Monday, September 17, 2018

Courageous Nuns Confront Power of Church and State Working together in Collusion in Sexual Abuse Case, Let us Affirm Prophetic Witness of Nuns - #AtMetoo

Catholic nuns hold placards demanding the arrest of a bishop who one nun has accused of rape, during a public protest in Kerala, India, Wednesday. (AP)

My Response: These courageous nuns are challenging patriarchy's toxic treatment of women as second class members of the church and society.  Their protest will inspire millions of Catholics to support women's human rights and gender justice as integral to living social justice - #atmetoo- in the Roman Catholic Church.  Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP,

Editor's note: This is the first in a multi-part series that investigates sexual abuse in the church and the institutions that it runs. The articles that follow rely on interviews with victims, abusers, those accused of abuse, church elders, parish members and state officials to examine the role of the three institutions that are critical to the issue: The Church, the community, and the State.
Whenever there is a report of sexual abuse that comes to light in the media, everyone sits up and gets outraged. It is fashionable to fantasise cutting off and/or pouring acid over the private parts of male perpetrators and predators. Calls to hang them and skin them alive become hashtags and trends on social media. Once we have done that enough times in our heads, we feel we have addressed the issues and quietly go about our everyday lives.
That is why the case of the five nuns, who have come out in protest and made themselves vulnerable to a highly self-opinionated and judgemental public, is a watershed moment with no parallel hitherto anywhere in the world. At a time when sexual misconduct by the clergy has rocked the Catholic Church in the US and elsewhere around the world, and the packed closets of decades of abuse have been tumbling out, India is seeing its own closet moment.
Five nuns of the Missionaries of Jesus have been on protest for over 10 days against the rape of one of their own, a 44-year-old nun who was no less than a former Mother-General. This means that she was not a fledgling novice, but was someone with power and authority within her order. The complainant says that she was raped 13 times between 2014 and 2016 by Bishop Franco Mulakkal in his room, whenever he visited the order during that period. The order to which the nuns belong comes under his direct authority. Her oral complaints to her Mother Superior and written complaints to others in the hierarchy did not have any redressal.
So, she filed a 114-page police complaint in June this year. The police had summoned the bishop for questioning only once since the complaint, and no action other than that has been taken against him. The power structures both within and outside the Church have been quick to condemn the nun who lodged the complaint and remarkably threw their weight behind the accused bishop in being neutral to be "read" as taking his side.
All the above information is in the public domain.
The issue having been highlighted has become a topic of national debate on a wide variety of platforms. Although the matter has been under the spotlight, what is more remarkable, and not entirely surprising is the silence of the wider public on the matter. The reasons are many. For whom do the alarm bells ring? None. Over the years, the reporting on sexual violence and abuse has been something that we have grown to hear about with increasing frequency from all quarters. We have heard of rapes on the streets, in moving buses, cabs, during communal clashes, against Dalit and Adivasi communities perpetrated by a higher caste, gangrape, child rapes, rapes of orphans in State-run shelters, academic institutions, gay rapes, incestuous rapes, marital rapes, custodial rapes, rapes in institutions for persons with disability and so on.
The rape of a nun did not exactly create outrage for the larger public. It just expanded the territory of the crime. In fact, very few such reports ever cause public outrage and resultant swift action by the authorities. In the case of the repeated rape of the nun, unfortunately more people are inclined to take the case of the bishop rather than the nun. The reasons are many. The alleged assaults happened a few years back. Once is rape, but 13 times? Why did she go to his room? How could a Man of God do such a thing?
According to a 2005 report, there were 17.3 million Catholics in India, and the vast majority of them have been silent. The only people making some noise are a few feminist movements. The reasons for the silence are many. Many are of the view that it is an internal matter for the Church to clean its dirty linen. People of faith within the Church believe that retribution will come from above, so it is alright to let the bishop go scot-free at the moment. He will be ultimately punished if guilty.
Some people would like to hush up the matter or stay silent, biding time until this blows over and dies a death of amnesia in the public arena. For them, this tragic episode — even if untrue — hurts the reputation of the Church, which is already under a cloud of several issues, corruption being chief among them. The Church is slowly but surely losing its place of prominence as a moral authority. The rape incidents does little to help its image. Self-preservation always trumps efforts to administer justice. Every time.
Politically too, there is resistance on the part of the State to intervene, due to vote bank concerns. Or so it is believed. But the reasons may be more complex than that. Men will defend other men even when they are separated by ideology, party, colour or race. Power will come to the rescue of power in order to keep the status quo. Have we not seen politicians of every hue always taking the side of evil corporations and powerful banks? MLA PC George calling for a virginity test of all the protesting nuns is a classical example of how men of power will shield other men in power. The police force is predominantly men and therefore, its reluctance to act.
Sexual abuse whether within the Church or outside of it should concern us all. The power dynamics that create and perpetuate the crime are universal. Inequality is the solid rock upon which the structures of society are built, and the Church is not exempt from it. Rape is just a manifestation of this inequality. Unless the Church and the society of which it is a part address the structural gender inequality at all levels, we will continue to hear incidents more brazen than these from all sides.
There are three kinds of sexual harassment: Gender-based, unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion — all of which are widely prevalent. One leads to the next in a vicious cycle of violence. While the cultural narrative focuses on rape, most of us will not even register or protest an act of gender-based harassment which is far more prevalent. They occur every day in every space. A missed opportunity, a slight, an insult, a humiliation are far too common to report. How many times have woman lost out on a promotion, equal wages, learning opportunities or been asked questions on their competence, simply because of their gender?
How often are women asked to make the coffee or clear the plates in an office space? That is no big deal. Often women have to work harder to prove their competence. Their work and contribution often goes unrecognised. They have to try harder to get approvals from their superiors for even trivial things that men get effortlessly. Because of the power differential, women learn to suffer in silence. Women are conditioned to ‘put up’ with, ignore or minimise such harassment. Research from all over the world accumulated over 30 years shows that sexual harassment and abuse is more likely to occur in environments that are male-dominated and where hierarchical relationships exist in the institution.
The Church is a classic example of a predominant, if not all-male, leadership with a strict hierarchy where women are vastly outnumbered within its power structure. The nuns are isolated from the world outside by design. The culture of the Church is tinged with misogyny and male privilege. A report in Women Church World, dated March 2018, published in conjunction with the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romanopublished the testimony of a nun identified as only Sister Cecile, which is very revealing.
She said that the generous service and obedience of nuns led to them being exploited and underappreciated. She described how nuns were often chosen to provide the domestic services of cooking, cleaning and laundering for cardinals, bishops, parishes and other church structures with little or no financial compensation to their religious orders, no contractual arrangements and no formal work schedules — the sort lay people would have. This according to her and other sisters who were interviewed leads to situations marked by ambiguity and often great injustice.
A lack of recognition or respect is also a problem, as their work is considered less valuable or appreciated than that of consecrated men. In the report, a Sister Marie asked how a priest can let a religious woman serve him his meal at a table and then “let her eat alone in the kitchen once he has been served”. They remarked how religious women and nuns almost always end up as the domestic workers for the consecrated men. A Sister Paule stated that assignments do not always take advantage of a woman’s qualification, explaining that there were sisters with doctorate degrees in theology, who were assigned cooking and cleaning jobs ‘without explanation’.
Sisters often keep quiet and say they are happy due to their vows of poverty, obedience and loyalty to their order, but experience great confusion and deep discouragement. Interestingly, most priests do not take a vow of poverty. Not only do the priests wield more power but also considerable wealth within its institutions. It is obvious that the male hierarchy and patriarchy is at the root of the problem.
For all the faltering progress that most institutions have made over the past century with regard to gender parity within its ranks, the Church has been the last to catch up. Mary Magdalene was a close friend of Jesus', and Phoebe was a leader of the early church, but we are yet to see a woman cardinal in more than 2,000 years of the history of the Catholic Church. The wings that have begun to flutter in Kerala are sooner or later bound to create repercussions in the Vatican.
Also Read
Washington Post Article:

For more than a week, five nuns have been protesting to say#MeToo.
On the road across from the high court of Kerala, a state that was once known for having a matrilineal society, the nuns stepped out of their cloistered lives, marching with placards warning that their lives were in danger. They were demanding action against Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who they say raped one of the nuns 13 times between 2014 and 2016. After failing to get the church to respond to her complaint, the nun registered a police complaint in June. While the man charged with rape has so far been interrogated just once, the woman has been questioned five times. The police made no arrest. This is despite 81 witnesses being questioned by the police, including two critical testimonies that blow a hole in the bishop’s alibi.
The church, the Kerala government and police, the political class — and even the media — have all failed the women. The case, which some Christian reformists say may lift the shroud off a much deeper rot within, has exposed the brazen insensitivity and lack of compassion from those who say they speak for God. It has also exposed the nexus of power between the church and Kerala’s politicians. In particular, the response of the Missionaries of Jesus, the congregation to which the victim belongs, has been an abominable disgrace. Not only did its internal inquiry hand out a certificate of innocence to the bishop accused of rape and assault, it has victim-shamed the nun by accusing her of having a “relationship beyond acceptable standards with a local taxi driver.”
The congregation has blamed “rationalists” for influencing the nuns and, worse, has openly violated Indian law (which demands guarding the identity of sexual abuse survivors because of societal stigma) by releasing a photograph of the complainant at a media conference.
While the guilt or innocence of the accused bishop will be established by court, it is unacceptable that the Catholic sect should confer upon itself the right to divine adjudication of right and wrong. The confidence with which the religious order has been able to run a parallel inquiry of its own reflects the impunity it believes it enjoys. In a state where Christians make up 18 percent of the population, the clergy seems far too powerful to be taken on directly, by either the ruling communists or the opposition Congress party. Christian activists fighting for reforms in the Church have been at the forefront of calling out the hypocrisy of both parties that otherwise claim to occupy the left-liberal space in national politics.

“This is nothing but vote bank politics,” Indulekha Joseph, a lawyer who has helped the nuns mobilize support, told me in an interview. “Politicians believe that the Christian vote rests in the hands of a few bishops. They think the Catholics will vote according to what these priests want. The ruling party has been insensitive. And the opposition party, which otherwise has something to say on each and every issue, was mostly silent.”
The church is also able to flex its muscles because of the enormous wealth its bishops control. Presently, codified canon law allows all church property to be managed by leaders of the various denominations. In effect, church authorities are not accountable for the management of the wealth even to their believers. A legislation drafted by a former chief justice of the Supreme Court to have democratically elected bodies for the management of church properties has been gathering cobwebs for almost a decade; neither party is willing to touch it. 
The consequence of this covert and cozy arrangement between lawmakers and the powerful priests is the silencing of Christian women — especially nuns. The nun who has taken on Bishop Mulakkal wrote a searing letter to the Vatican alleging that her assaulter was a predator who was using money and power to bury the investigation. In the letter she says she is not the only survivor; 20 nuns were compelled to leave the congregation because of the sexual abuse by the bishop.

“There are many nuns within the church who are suffering. They are afraid to come out. The church mechanism is a very large and powerful one,” the lawyer Joseph said. “The other problem is once a nun speaks, she is thrown out of the convent and may find herself on the street, because often her family is not willing to accommodate her. A campaign of character assassination starts. The nun will be portrayed as a prostitute.”
This is exactly what happened with the Kerala nun who dared to protest. A lawmaker, P.C. George, called her a prostitute for whom “twelve times it was pleasure; 13th time it became a rape.” Later he regretted his use of the word but stuck to the larger narrative of slander. He will have to pay no price for his potty mouth.
For a moment, let’s set aside the sexist politics of using the word “prostitute” as a form of abuse. Why would a lawmaker worry about the coarse awfulness of his statements when men who claim to be messengers of piety think nothing of sullying a nun who belongs to their own congregation?

Earlier this year, the rape of an 8-year-old child in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir united India in our outrage. Our anger was propelled by the fact that local politicians in the state, including two state ministers, were defending the men who had been booked for the crime. Today, when the clergy defends a rape-accused and isolates the woman who dared to take him on, we owe her the same rage. Yes, sexual violence and abuse is not confined to one state or one faith. But secularism is no excuse for predators and abusers to hide behind. Kerala is known as God’s own country in India; some fundamental morality is called for there.

No comments: