Sister Jesme in her book Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun
“The convents and nunneries are being converted into brothels. The priests have sex with the nuns at night in these convents. Because of these acts, the chastity of the priests and nuns has come under suspicion. Their love for God has shrunk...some of the clergy protect their chastity by watching pornography and reading pornographic material. They lose themselves in this habit. These books and DVDs are kept in secret places and can’t be found easily.”
Father Shibu Kalamparambil in his memoir Oru Vaidikante Hrudayamitha (The Heart of a Priest)
“The cry of a baby came from the bathroom of one of the inner rooms along with the sobs of a woman. We used our might to force open the bathroom door and what we saw would break anyone’s heart. A nun who had given birth to a child was pushing the head of the baby into the closet. The bathroom was filled with blood. The legs of the child, which were sticking out of the closet, were kicking for life.”
Sister Mary Chandy in her autobiography Nanma Niranjavale Swasthi (Peace to the One filled with Grace)
On the gentle slopes of Pulpally, Wayanad, where the Naxal movement once sent terror into the hearts of the land-owning gentry, a lone ex-nun, Sister Mary Chandy, is raising the hackles of the Catholic church. Her autobiography, Nanma Niranjavale Swasthi, a no-holds-barred account of her life in the convent, is littered with pregnant nuns and wayward priests. The 67-year-old Sister’s memoirs comes a good 14 years after she walked out of the congregation of the Daughters of Presentation of Mary in Chevayur, Kozhikode, in north Kerala. The Church was quick to proclaim that Sister Mary was never a nun in any of their convents and asked the laity in Wayanad not to associate with her.
So what happened after she saw the nun trying to kill her newborn baby in a convent in Mananthavady in Wayanad, as she has described in autobiography? “After I broke open the door with the help of another nun, I grabbed the child and held it to my chest. I thought I was doing the right thing but the sisters turned against me. I want to know why. In a previous incident, when I hit a priest on his head with a stool when he tried to grab me, the nuns sympathised with the priest. From then on, I was watched carefully.” After 40 years, Sister Mary fled the convent life.
Tell-all memoirs are not new in Kerala, nor are church scandals. The Sister Abhaya murder case (1992) has still not seen closure and in the last five years there have been three other cases of alleged nun ‘suicides’. But a nun coming out, writing an autobiography, warts and all, was a first even for Kerala. Sister Jesme’s autobiography three years ago caused quite a stir and embarrassed the church no end. Following close behind was Father Shibu Kalamparambil’s effort in 2010, which described in excruciating detail the depraved lives that many priests and nuns led. And now comes Sister Mary Chandy’s memoir, about nuns who got pregnant by priests and aborted foetuses and other such horror stories.
Noted writer and feminist Sara Joseph, whose novel Othappu incidentally explores the life of a nun who leaves the convent, says, “Most of the nuns and priests suffer in silence for suffering is a quality that they are conditioned to accept as a virtue. What you see here is the expression of the individual’s conflict with the establishment. They did not have the courage till now to take on the establishment but now they are openly questioning it.” Joseph Pullikunnel, editor of Hosanna and director of the Indian Institute of Christian Studies, says he hasn’t heard anything like this against the Catholic church, in such an open manner, ever before. “Perhaps the church was ‘whitewashing’ itself,” he says hesitantly.
Ex-MP and commentator Dr Sebastian Paul is a bit more unabashed about the sociological implications of these revelations: “These autobiographies have become bestsellers but the allegations they make have not been publicly debated. So there is not much impact on the organisation. The Catholic Church is a highly centralised organisation and there is very little criticism happening within.”
So will a soon-to-be-released film, aptly titled Father, Son and Holy Ghost, on the hardships and dilemmas faced by nuns, put things in perspective? “The Church is traditionally patriarchal. I have explored the lives of two nuns in a nunnery in my film and have touched on various aspects, including homosexuality and abortion,” says director T. Deepesh.
That doesn’t sound like things are going to get better. Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, says the fathers and nuns who have left the order and are writing books now are the ones who could not cope with the spiritual life. As he puts it, “If one cannot stay celibate, it is better to get out, marry and live happily. One is called to a difficult way of life; it needs an ascetic’s will to live a life of celibacy happily. It is always better to marry than to ‘burn’ mentally. I do not appreciate those who make a hue and cry of something they fail to live up to and then blame others for their failures. It is too naive to say, ‘since I could not, nobody can’.”
Sara Joseph too stresses the unsubstantiated clause, saying if these writers want to be taken seriously they must reveal names. “Only if they are exposed can they be questioned,” she says. Take, for instance, Sister Mary’s book. It takes no names nor are dates clearly mentioned. Fr Stephen Mathew, director of Neethivedi, an NGO in Wayanad, points out, “We are suspicious because they haven’t revealed everything. A small minority may be behaving like this...but it is not good to generalise.”
The Church’s critics, though, offer a different view. They feel even if it’s only a handful of priests and nuns who have spoken out, it’s still a brave effort as it is unthinkable for the majority to speak against the strict order. There is both fear and subservience. Those who dare to leave this cloistered life are often not accepted by even their family and are ostracised by society. And most don’t even have a place to stay.
“Judas! Fallen Angel! Mad! These are some of the epithets being hurled my way by the church,” says Sister Jesme, 56, a former principal of St Mary’s College, Thrissur, fully at ease in a pair of red tights and a black T-shirt, enjoying her freedom in her tiny flat in Guruvayur. “I am foisted as an example to quell dissidents within the nunneries and seminaries. They preach that I have been disowned by my family and by the Church and the same would befall anyone who dares to be another Sr Jesme.” Fr Shibu says his parents were threatened by the Church. They were even told that they would not be buried in the church cemetery if they accepted him back home.
Curiously, this comes at a time when the Vatican itself is under attack. A tell-all bestseller, Sua Santita, has outed confidential personal letters between the Pope and his associates revealing many embarrassing details. Last month, the head of the Vatican bank was sacked on money-laundering charges. Many connected with the Church say the kind of depravity prevalent among the priests and nuns in Kerala and abroad is because of the arcane rules and practices. This perhaps is the time to usher in some much-needed reforms in the Catholic Church. As Dr Valson Thampu, principal of St Stephen’s College, Delhi, puts out, “Every institution stands in need of continual reform. What is not reformed or renewed is headed for death. Only those who are spiritually insensitive will resist reform.” So will the Church let more light into its pews or wait for another book by one of its own to rake up another scandal?
God grace the child who finally says, “The emperor has no clothes” (To Cast the First Stone, Jul 23). And the priests, nuns and laity are set to speak the truth too. It’s time to shout from rooftops what has been whispered in darkness. And for all things done in darkness to see the light of day.
Marlene L., Florida
The church can only blame itself if the people are calling for the guilty to be punished. The accused priests must be indicted under the laws of the country as in any other case. Justice must be seen to be done.
H.N. Ramakrishna, Bangalore
Jesus Christ was the greatest champion of non-violence and human dignity. His house cannot be one of sin.
Joseph M. Dias, Meghalaya
As a Catholic, we too hear many stories, but I doubt the veracity of some of these. Still, this is an empire of the priests and nuns who run them—horrible incidents do happen.
Arun P. Matthew, Coimbatore
Fact is, there are castaways in every religion.
It’s time we wake up the ignorant majority, expose religion for the big fraud it is. All ye mullahs, pujaris, granthis, the world will have its retribution.
Pushpak Tripathi, London
In this age of internet and unfettered avenues for satiating one’s libido, it’s simply anachronistic to expect a man or woman to remain celibate and depraved.
Dr George Jacob, Kochi
The old adage, ‘God business is good business’, has never been more true than today.
Col Romy Sakharia, Kochi
No wonder Europe has to import nuns and priests from here, the people there have had enough. The time has come for the Church to throw up a latter-day Martin Luther.
S.S. Nagaraj, Bangalore
Choosing to focus only the flaws while doing a story on a subject like the Church is not right. Incidentally, it is the Church and Communism that have been the most influential in making Kerala what it is today. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Every religion is the same. Time to give up religion and start leading a normal life.
Dinesh Kumar, Chandigarh
Your magazine reaches lakhs of readers, and it briefly talks of all kinds of mortal ‘sins’ allegedly committed by Kerala’s Catholic clergy (Cast the First Stone, Jul 23). The damage done by such unsubstantiated lies or even half-truths is unimaginable. Of course, we must have justice for victims of clerical abuse, but also we cannot let such an irresponsible smear campaign go unchallenged. If, for nothing else, then because it is our Christian duty to defend our very own innocent first. By serving this concocted cocktail, Outlook has undoubtedly sold more copies. But what of the faith of millions, let alone the truth of the matter. This is also to protest the muckraking movie, Father, Son and Holy Spirit for which you have given free publicity. Hence we are forced to start a signature campaign to protest the matter.
Ravi Santosham, on e-mail
We would like to protest against the Outlook cover story and the movie Father, Son and Holy Spirit directed by T. Deepesh, which has hurt our religious sentiments. You are urged to take note of the Catholic Christian Secular Forum campaign against this offence. Please take necessary action to stop the same.
Stephen Alathara and 225 others
At a time when India is at the cusp of becoming a world power, it does not behove you well to belittle our long-standing institutions—and the Church, you will agree, is definitely one of those.
Guy Joseph, on e-mail
Like in most such cases involving religious institutions, the perpetrators of the crime, the Kerala church in this case, will never be humble enough to accept their wrongdoings. Which is a shame.
Jacob Bonofer, on e-mail
This unabashed besmearing of the Catholic community of Kerala will not be tolerated.
M.D. Joseph, Kanjirapalli
I can’t believe Fr Shibu’s parents were threatened that they would not get a place in the church cemetery. Clearly for these church elders, Genesis 3:19—‘For dust you are, and to dust you shall return’—is only so much, well, dust...to be brushed under the carpet.
Please be faithful to your profession. Everyone is not a Judas so do not hunt people down with your prejudice.
Boban Mozhasseril, on e-mail
That crimes and incidents of sexual abuse happen in religious institutes is nothing new, but the horrifying stories from the churches of Kerala literally sent shivers down my spine.
Sanjay Kapoor, Calcutta
There are numerous problems in our country. Concentrate on on those instead of delighting in persecuting us Christians.
Ben Elvira, on e-mail
Outlook has become an instrument in the hands of the devil. A curse upon be it.
Gregory Arby, on e-mail
Outlook goes with the precept of people being ‘guilty until proven innocent’, which is unpardonable on the part of a national magazine.
Bijo Kochadampallil, on e-mail
Mr President of India, please take note of this humiliation heaped on us.
Gemma Alvares, on e-mail
The one who has not sinned may throw the first stone—the said filmmaker, the publisher and editors at Outlook included.
Jayaprakash, on e-mail
I denounce Outlook for this anti-church propaganda.
Kinalia D’souza, on e-mail
I am a man trained in church-run schools and what I am today is the sacrifice of so many of them. I strongly protest this third-rate journalism.
Dr J.M. Vayalil, on e-mail
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The very essence of christianity is misplaced by so called church elders. A simple example is a comment on the treatment to Fr. Shibu's family - Quote "Fr Shibu says his parents were threatened by the Church. They were even told that they would not be buried in the church cemetery if they accepted him back home."Unqoute.
This is nothing but bullying. All because the church is the owner of land. What a worldly thought. My understanding is they are supposed to rise above all worldly things and only act spiritually. A spiritual christian will not bother about the body but only about the soul and spirit for his eternal life and home.
As for the physical body - The bible clearly states in Genesis 3:19 For Dust you are, And to dust you shall return. So what God decides man cannot change - it will happen. Secondly church land is not the only place to bury. Christians should realize that options of government land are also available to bury christians and if that is opted for then the church would automatically stop bullying with flimsy tactics as these.
>> What values does Bible imparts on its readers or followers?
This article is a critique of the Church, not of Christianity. To use it to mount an attack on the religion is despicable.
What values does Bible imparts on its readers or followers? Dont just blame God...you guys are forgetting another entity! Ie. Demon, Satan, Lucifer, of whom many many white people worship him and lovingly call him Lucifer, his number in numerology is 11. thats why they had sept 11, which means bypassing God as God has been assigned 10 number, to make it more clear when people ring 911 for emergency 'IT MEANS bypassing God and calling, some one other than Him for help' Got it?
Their whole of societies is falling apart...decaying of moral values, complete breakdown of family and religious values..cos of why?
I don't think it's the lack of belief in so called God...It's the lack of values...and people fail to realize the fact that values come before god; and morality is defined by your values, not your belief in god.
I've seen creationist retards tag someone who chose to walk the path of atheism, as morally incapable.
And these are the people who consider themselves authority on righteousness and everything moral...
SS Nagaraj >> The point is, human beings have always believed in existence of super natural power and religion is only an extension of that.It is the fear of the unknown and it is more so for granting of favours.
While agreeing with you, I would also state that the average human being (of any religion) is extremely selfish and tends to think of religion, god, creator, creation only when his/her own existence or betterment is at stake . And when things are going great, we tend to avoid/fortet this question. This explains how the so called western european nations, which were conservative christian till mid 20th century are today mostly irreligious. The people there have enough bread and wine and circus gifted by a welfare state that ensures enough distraction to all. USA is comparitively more religious oriented because it is a brutally competitive nation with no welfare state system where no one's place is guaranteed. As globalization spreads, in next 100 years, all countries in world will have same standard of living as western europe and so most people may be goldess/irreligious but yet the basic question will remain. Just as gravity existed even before newton pondered on a apple falling from a tree. And like that apple momemt, people will ponder on these questions on signs of next threat to human civilization - like peak oil, or mass epidemic or some asteroid hitting us... and it goes on..
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