It is no consolation that the media also covers the sexual peccadilloes of Hindu savants including Shankaracharyas and even those who think of themselves as avatars of God. And while sex and sexuality have been much discussed within the Church and outside in the wake of the crisis in Ireland, Germany, the UK and the US, I must admit it came as a great shock to the Church and to ordinary Christians when Outlook in its July 23, 2012, edition ran a cover with the lurid headline, ‘Sex Scandal and the Church’, with the publicity photograph of a rather bad actress playing a nun in what promises to be a salacious film, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
Patently, it is no longer a matter of hushed rumours or jokes in seminaries and lay meetings. Morals and morality amongst priests and nuns is cause for deep concern. Though small and perhaps marginal at present, it may grow to threaten the Church in the 21st century if urgent remedial action is not taken. A state of denial will not do, nor a conspiracy of silence in a highly structured, hierarchical Church. It is also not a problem for the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church alone, or of the Latin Catholic Church. Protestant, Evangelical and even Pentecostal churches, which do not enforce celibacy in the clergy like the Catholic church does, grapple with their own demons of corruption and moral turpitude.
Self-appointed protectors of the Church in some places have raised the bogey of persecution by the media. They see in it an outrage and a conspiracy. Some senior Catholic and Protestant bishops, including contemporary thinkers such as Bishop Joab Lohara of a Methodist Church denomination, also point out that the magazine expose comes at a time when the Indian right-wing and fundamentalist groups have been mounting a campaign against the Church. A look at the Organiser and Panchajanya, official organs of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is evidence of this. Sanghi trolls are on my neck on my Twitter account.
The Church is indeed under sustained attack, and persecution rages, specially in states such as Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, even Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The body politic and governments at the Centre and in the states show an increasing tendency to put curbs on the Church as a political strategy to curry favour with the majority votebank. Witness the increasing clamour for anti-conversion laws in several states. Even in Maharashtra and other states where there is no anti-conversion law, pastors are routinely harassed by the police and civil administration, accused of trying to convert people. The Union government does not give visas to internal guests of the Church. The denial of constitutional rights to Dalit Christians and the utter miscarriage of justice to the victims of the violence in Kandhamal in 2007 and 2008 are a case in point. It does not matter which political party rules—even the Congress governments are guilty. The BJP governments, of course, lead the pack.
We are not responding with references to Mother Teresa whose love for the poor puts her in the list of top 10 Indians after Mahatma Gandhi. Or to St Stephen’s and Loyola Colleges or the Vellore Christian Medical College. But it is proper to remind the Indian people of the work done by missionaries, priests, nuns and others. This is not to claim any special dispensation, or even as a boast, but just as a plain reminder, as a duty done to the homeland and its people. A part of the calling that any good Christian, following in the footsteps of Christ, would do. It would also be important to remind the media in general and Outlook in particular that sensationalism can tarnish the image of communities and institutions, and that the sins of a few ought not to be vested upon the rest of the Church. The damage has been done, and a mere apology alone won’t do. Perhaps we need a future cover on this silent but industrious minority whose wealth isn’t in the steel or diamond industries but in the smile of its fellow citizens.
But the Church too has to take steps. A group of Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches has come together to address issues of corruption and alienation of property as evil not just under the Indian Penal Code but more so in the eyes of God. Church leaders must accept that such things happen, though not in the alarming manner Outlook’s cover made it seem. We ought to analyse the reasons, and it cannot be just as simple as celibacy and ‘clericality’ as being the root cause of all sexual crimes. In the big wide world, married men rape, some of them rape little children. Some of them are ministers, politicians, scientists, policemen, artistes and journalists. This holds true among Muslims, Buddhists and, most of all, Hindus, because of the sheer large numbers, as several TV programmes have shown. Some may have forgotten that the Weekly and Blitz, now defunct, did cover stories on the late Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, accusing him of homosexuality. It is besides the point that its editor, R.K. Karanjia, later became a bhakta of the godman.
I mention these to assure the hierarchy they are not an exception. The exposition in the West by media, including Catholic journals, over the last few years of paedophilia and child abuse has made the state apparatus intervene. But the Church hierarchy has to take its decisions in India. It needs authentic data for this. Former chief justice of India S.P. Bharucha has famously said that 20 per cent of the Indian judiciary is corrupt. Anna Hazare says every politician is corrupt, including the new President of India. I know of many journalists who are very corrupt. We expect zero tolerance in the Church, but priests too are human beings and the temptations of the flesh can be strong.
Fr R.S. Pinto responded to my intervention in a Google group, pointing out that “no Catholic likes to hear about these things, said or published...no one will take pleasure in these things. It’s abhorrent. But though we are less than three per cent, the work done by yesteryear’s missionaries in setting up schools and colleges, hospitals, orphanages and homes for the destitute is probably unparalleled. But all that is past. The victims [who wrote their books] must have tried to get justice within the Church first, before writing their books, without success. Many in the leadership want to sweep everything under the carpet. They consider the image of Church as paramount...at any cost the image should not be sullied, even if that means shielding the guilty.”
Communications expert Allwyn Fernandes, often a critic of the Church, told me, “There is enough good work that has been done to stand out amidst the filth. Let us rather work to flush out the filth than try to hide it further.” I feel strongly that the ordinary Christian and Catholic does not want to defend the indefensible. But he abhors sensationalism of the sort Outlook indulged in.
The people want the leadership to be more open and provide space for suggestions towards improvement. Work needs to begin from the very beginning. We know that the vocation is falling, and is now almost limited to the tribal belts. But even in times of scarcity, a certain level of filtering has to be done. The candidate is the building block of the Church. The seminary is where that block is moulded. If the foundations are strong, the products of these seminaries will be worthy of their training and of their vows.
I think it’s time strong signals came from the Indian Church hierarchy, as they have come from Rome. Perhaps zero tolerance may not be possible day after tomorrow, but it is a laudable target and needs to be pursued. The first step would be a roving enquiry, including social scientists, human resource experts and theologians, and a sprinkling of those with some forensic experience. That would be a good beginning. And it needs to be done before the State, for ulterior motives, intervenes, or the media mocks us for TRPS and circulation.
(Dr John Dayal, member, National Integration Council, is past national president of the All-India Catholic Union and secretary-general of the All-India Christian Council.)
Apropos John Dayal’s rejoinder (Aug 6) to the Outlook cover story on sex scandals in the Kerala church, the gentleman, caught in a time warp, epitomises the persecution complex mentality. Why not look within on the issues facing the Church rather than blame others? He’s truly a Nero fiddling as Rome burns.
Bharat Sood, Hoshiarpur
There’s hardly any difference between the Sanghis and the predominant ‘political’ sections within the church—both are hardcore communalists. The great traditions of the Indian Catholic church (with revolutionary roots in Kerala) have withered away with this Roman predominance. Mr Dayal will hopefully appreciate the fact that conversion and blatant propagation of communal interests to the exclusion of others is the greatest challenge to secularism, be it done by the Church or the math.
Vinu Nair, Delhi
I don’t think Outlook intended to insult Christianity. Isn’t it part of the media’s job to critique society? Why see it as sensationalism?
Chithrupa Ramesh, Bangalore
There are thousands of cases like this. If the priests and nuns can’t control their feelings, let them give up the holy robe.
Joseph C., on e-mail
Please don’t be so pessimistic.
Fr Eldho Puthenkandathil, Mysore
You know, the media is an all-powerful thing. When such cover stories and rejoinders are published, innocent minds are spoiled. Who will be responsible for this before God? Please try to undo the damage that has been done.
Archbishop Bernard Moran, Mangalore
The more the Church tries to cover up, the more such incidents will recur. The supposed guardians of spirituality will end up being its enemy No. 1.
Vijayakumar A.P., Coimbatore
It is unfortunate that such communal-minded people like Mr Dayal are part of the National Integration Council.
Dr Avinash Shetty, Manipal
This refers to John Dayal’s rejoinder (Let not the sins of a few vest upon the church) to your cover story of July 23, on sex scandals in the church. When a magazine publishes a story based on testimonies from victims, why does Dayal have to remind us of the virtues of the church? By that logic, there’s nothing wrong in priests forcing themselves on nuns because, on the whole, the church does a lot of social service. And nothing wrong either in pardoning Narendra Modi for the anti-Muslim riots of 2002 because of his vaunted good governance and push towards development.
Re: John Dayal’s rejoinder to the Outlook July 23, 2012 Cover Story (Sex Scandal and the Church): He is the definition of a “Good Christian”: Self Righteous, Always canvassing the virtues of the church and Oh my god, Touchy!
My simple understanding Cover Story is that it summarises 3 or 4 sets of writings of former clergy, already in the public domain, bringing to light the dark and disgusting goings on in the celibate clergy. It’s entirely based on first hand views and opinions of former insiders and what better place can you invite criticism from but from within?
I also have that unique right and status being raised as a Catholic for the first 18 years of my life till such time I consciously distanced myself from the Church though I continue to belong to a large devout catholic family. When an article such as the Outlook Cover Story which is 100 % correct, why does John Dayal have to remind us of the virtues of the church such as the Loyola College or CMC Vellore? By that logic, can priests continue to force nuns to have sex with them just because of the amount of social service done by the church? Would we accept Modi’s arguments of ‘Good Administrator’, “Tata Nano’ or ‘good roads’ as an answer for the Pogrom of 2002? The Cover Story in question is 100 % correct and all practicing Christians should introspect and work towards setting up mechanisms of internal redress and reform instead of questioning the story’s motive or timing.
It is my view that Christians would not have batted an eyelid should something like this have been written about Muslims. Because practising Christians are as allergic to Muslims as the Hindu Right Wing. Being a part of that community for long has taught me this. Christians have always cosy - ed up to the majority in India and looked away when atrocities have been committed against others. Why did the Church not speak up against the demolition of the Babri Masjid? Why did it not speak up against the carnage against Sikhs in 84? Why did it not speak up against the 93 carnage of Muslims in Mumbai? Why did it not speak out against the police excesses in Punjab between 1989 and 1991? Why do they not speak out against the excesses of Security agencies in J&K and Manipur? All this is just in India. Why does the Vatican not condemn the illegitimate wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? (They probably agree with the evil axis of the US and UK that have killed hundreds of innocent people under the pretext of the war on terror). In this back drop, the church only wakes up when its own people are attacked in Orissa and Karnataka. I recall a well known Christian Officer who spoke on all TV debates supporting police excesses and protecting the morale of the police when it came to attacks on Sikhs and Muslims and others , but when attacks on Christians started in Karnataka and Orissa he suddenly had an anti state opinion!.
The Church should gracefully put in place mechanisms of redress for nuns who have been wronged and address the fact that celibacy is unworkable. It’s at best workable by choice not as a prescription.
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Dr. Dayal is beautifully attempting a digression through his own politicised articulation. If he takes a honest look, he will hardly find any difference between the Sanghis and predominant 'political' sections within the chruch - both hardcore communalists. While Sanghis attempt to permeate their nihilistic Hindutva thinking, ambitious segments in the chruch are using their strangehold over believers to perpetuate and safeguard their own political and economic interests. Where do the humane values of the religion and the virtues preached by the Bible reflect in today's clergy or believers. The new-generation clergy has less time for spirtualism and more for politics and materialism. The great traditions of the Indian catholic church (with revolutionary roots in Kerala) have been withered away by Roman predominance. Dr. Dayal could appreciate that conversion and blatant propagation of communal interests at the expense of others are the greatest challenges to secularism, be it done by the Church or the Mutt. The leverage of religious leaders have be checked, and they should better restrict themselves to spirtual matters.
John Dayal says 'it is no consolation that the media also covers the sexual peccadilloes of Hindu savants including ...'. The media 'also' covers? Anyone who is in the habit of reading or watching news channels in this country know very well what is that the media covers!
If any small time fraudster who dresses himself in saffron commits anything, we can see headlines in the news channels & magazines about ...... committed by a Hindu sanyasi! A fraudster is a fraudster, be he/she be in the garb of a sanyasi, policeman, govt. servant or whomsoever. But, here the report is about the happenings, and not very rare ones too, in arguably the biggest organization in the world!
It is this organized nature which is alarming. For example, the murderers of sister Abhaya from the St. Pius X convent belonging to the Knanaya Catholic diocese, namely Fr. Thomas Kottoor, Fr. (Dr.) Jose Puthrukayil, Sr. Sephi, etc. belonging to the same diocese were protected by none other than the Bishop Kuriakose Kunnassery. This, as alleged by a former professor Thresiamma of the B.C.M. College (run by the same diocese), was since the Bishop was involved in a relationship with sister Lucy (who went on to become the principal of the B.C.M. College) and the murderer trio were in the knowledge of this.
The point is, when morals are loose, criminal tendencies too crop up, and this leads to such incidents like the murder of the sister. The more the Church tries to cover up, more and more incidents of the sort (sister Abhaya's case is not the first murder involving the Church people) will happen, and the supposed guardians of spirituality end up as the ones who are the No. 1 enemies of spirituality, and the society!
why should religion be free from criticism?
when christianity makes absurd claims for itself & says clearly that it is the only sols or that it contains the solns to ALL the problems in the world,it automatically opens itself up to criticism.
We need the freedom of expression to criticise & question religion & particularly those religions that claim their scriptures are the 'unquestionable word of god through a human medium'.
The right to reject,is a fundamental one I should think!!
"Get BB Lal to dig."
What is the need? Teesta will gladly produce an affidavit signed by JC.
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