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Concern about sexual abuse in the Church

22nd March, 2017.

To
Baselios Cardinal Cleemis,
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), Major Archbishop of Trivandrum,
Archbishop’s House, Pattom, Trivandrum – 695 004. Kerala.

Subject: Concern about sexual abuse in the Church

Dear Cardinal Cleemis,

We,  the members of the Indian Women Theologians Forum (IWTF),  Satyashodhak, Streevani, Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace (FORUM), Conference of Religious India (CRI) Women’s Section, and other individuals who are deeply concerned about the integrity and mission of the Indian Church write in the context of the recent scandal involving the parish priest in Kerala who sexually abused a minor girl leading to her pregnancy.

1. Need to recognise issues specific to the ecclesial context
The episode highlights an issue that is unique to the ecclesial context, one which women have been struggling to bring to the attention of the bishops for the past 4 years, namely, that the violation of the fiduciary trust inherent in the priest-parishioner relationship has an additional dimension of damage, because we are taught to believe that the priest is ‘another Christ’. When such a man is a sexual offender, faith in the God he represents is shaken to the core. To the physical, mental and psychology trauma is added spiritual trauma. Not just the victim, but the entire family, the faith community and all those involved in the fight for justice are affected, and all need spiritual healing.

2. Need to respect and comply with State laws
Thankfully the State has laws that recognise sexual abuse for what it is, a crime that must be penalised. Similarly, the law regarding the abuse of minors is very clear, and shielding an abuser is now also punishable by the law. Unfortunately in the present instance the Church  seems to have failed on both these counts.   It took an outside agency to blow the whistle on the crimes that had occurred.

One of the purported reasons why the Church is reluctant to expose its criminal priests is the fear that such admissions will be exploited politically by vested interests. It is our contention that when the clandestine management of these cases comes to light it does far more harm, for delayed corrective action festers the wound. If on the other hand the laws of the land are followed it  will  give the signal that the Church  leadership is composed of law abiding citizens, and that the Church as an institution supports justice for the victim.

3. Need for structures to address sexual abuse when it occurs in the Church
The current case will be tried in a court of law, and sadly by the media, but we all know that it is not the first case and will  not be the last. To prevent repeat bungling and criminal activity, not to speak of untold damage to the reputation of the Church and the faith of its people, what we need urgently are structures in each diocese to handle these cases as soon as they occur. The government has already laid down the law for forming Internal  Committees  in  the  workplace,  to  receive and deal with  cases of  sexual harassment of women in organizations that have more than 10 employees.  These committees are required to have women as chairpersons and at least 50% women members including a woman from outside the organization,  working with  women’s issues. The names of the Committee members as well as the objectives of the Committee are required to be displayed prominently in the organization so that employees are aware of whom they can approach. This also facilitates accountability of the employer. The CBCI could insist on forming similar committees in every diocese with the mandate to  conduct enquiries when sexual abuse happens, and the authority  to  make and implement recommendations.

4. Need for a Policy to prohibit, prevent and redress sexual abuse in the Church What we also need urgently is a CBCI Policy to prohibit, prevent and address sexual abuse in the Church. A few of the women among the undersigned have been working with the CBCI Council for Women to bring out such a Policy for the past few years. It has met with many delays. We understand from Bishop Jacob mar Barnabas, the Chair of the Council, however, that the CBCI Standing Committee last year approved a Policy, and we are awaiting its release.      It  is our hope that such a Policy will  not only demonstrate the bishops’ concern for vulnerable victims of abuse, but also restore the bishops credibility with regard to the zero tolerance of sexual violence to women that they have promised in their Gender Policy.

5. Need for greater attention to the choice of candidates for the priesthood and seminary formation
Since the instances of sexual abuse by clergy are being increasingly reported in the Indian Church, we think that greater care needs to be taken when choosing candidates for the priesthood and more attention given to seminary training and on-going clerical formation on questions relating to sexuality and celibate commitment. More importantly  however, there must be conscientization with  regard to patriarchal attitudes that promote condescension and even aggression towards those considered “inferior”, and clericalism that is perceived to place the ordained outside civil law, and permits lack of accountability and transparency. At its root, sexual abuse is ultimately not about sexuality or celibacy,  but about the gross misuse of the disproportionate power assigned to priests. The improper handling of the case of a seminarian caught in voyeurism in 2014,  a case that was much discussed  within  church circles and was finally given an ethnic colour by the local authority in an attempt to protect the accused, points to the need for urgent measures to be taken in this regard.

6. Need to address issues pertaining to clergy-woman religious relationships
The Kottiyoor incident draws attention to another disturbing issue in the Church. We are deeply concerned that some women religious have been charge sheeted under POCSO for allegedly covering up the crime to protect the offending priest. It is a pointer to the many unresolved issues concerning the clergy-women religious relationship in the Indian Church, which need to be addressed and resolved in ways that safeguard the integrity and wellbeing of the Church.

We are happy to note that Pope Francis has taken serious cognisance of sexual abuse by clergy and repeatedly condemned it.  Two years ago while  speaking at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia to a gathering of hundreds of bishops from around the world, he pledged that “Clergy and bishops will  be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.” In June 2016 he laid out legal procedures to include negligence or omission in handling abuse allegations as one of the “grave reasons” that canon law allows for dismissal of a bishop.1  Once again, in a strongly worded letter to Bishops on 28 December.  2016,  he exhorts them to  renew their  commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place. In his words: ‘Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated. In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully, to “zero tolerance.”’2

Our letter is written in the same spirit, to express concern for hurting victims of sexual abuse in the Church, and to suggest measures to prevent such abuse, and when it does occur, to address it in accordance with existing laws and with sensitivity to victims, so that our Church remains a visible sign of justice, compassion and healing.

We remain sincerely in Christ,  who stands as a Champion  of abused and exploited women, and St. Joseph, whose feast we celebrated this month, who protected his young wife from the violence of patriarchal power.

Yours sincerely,
•          Dr. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala (Mumbai) – Co-ordinator, Indian Women Theologians Forum (IWTF) & Satyashodhak,  asklobog@gmail.com
•          Advocate Julie George (Pune) – Director, Streevani, streevani@gmail.com
•           Jacob Peenikaparambil CMI (Indore) National Convener, Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace (FORUM) – jacobpt48@gmail.com, forumofreligious@gmail.com
•          Manju Kulapuram SCSC (Hyderabad) National Secretary, Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace (FORUM) – manjukulapuram@yahoo.com,
•          Rita Pinto RSCJ, Vice President, National CRI,  & President, Women’s Section,
National CRI – ritarscj@hotmail.com

www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/francis-gives-vatican-authority-initiate-removal- bishops-negligent-sexual-abuse
2  Letter of the Holy Father to Bishops on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 December, 2016.

Signatories:
1.         Abraham Kurian IPS (Kerala) -akurien333@gmail.com
2.         Agnes Almeida DHM (Ahmadabad) – agnesm14@gmail.com
3.         Alice Erani SJC (Gadag) – alicesjc@gmail.com
4.         Dr. Aloma Lobo (Bangalore) – alomalobo@gmail.com
5.         Amala SND (Gumla) – amalasnd@gmail.com
6.         Ammini V.K. SJT (Bhopal) – amminisjt@gmail.com
7.         Anand Mathew IMS (Varanasi) – anandinmiso@gmail.com
8.         Ancy CJ (Bongaigoan) – cjancy@gmail.com
9.         Anna SJC (Jharkhand) – annolickalsjc@gmail.com
10.       Annie Jaise CMC (Waynad) – annie_jaisecmc@yahoo.com
11.       Anto Joseph SJ (Patna) – antothunda@hotmail.com
12.       A. Puthumana SJ (Patna) – abeputhumana@gmail.com
13.       Abraham Kurian IPS (Kerala) -akurien333@gmail.com
14.       Advocate Audrey D’Mello – majlislaw@gmail.com
15.       Augustine P. SJ (Torangatti) – augustinesj@gmail.com
16.       A.X.J. Bosco SJ (Secunderabad) – boscofr@gmail.com
17.       Benjamin HM (Sundargarh) – bnjmnhm@rediffmail.com,
18.       Brinelle Dsouza (Mumbai) – brinelledsouza@tiss.edu
19.       Prof. Caesar D’Mello (Mumbai) – fr.caesar1945@gmail.com
20.       Cedric Prakash SJ – cedricprakash@gmail.com
21.       Celia UMI (Chitrdurga) – celiaumi@gmail.com
22.       Celine Paramundayil MMS (New York) – celinemms8@gmail.com
23.       Clara CSJ (Itarsi) – claraitarsi@gmail.com
24.       Clara Alappatt HCM (Bangalore) – clarajv54@gmail.com
25.       Cyprian Fernandez (Kerala) -cyprianfernandez@gmail.com
26.       Devassy M.K. SG (Guwahati) devassysg@gmail.com
27.       Dorothy Fernandes PBVM (Patna) – dorothypbvm@gmail.com
28.       Elsa Muttathu PBVM (Chennai) – elsapbvm@gmail.com
29.       Prof. Errol DLima SJ (Mumbai) – erroldlima@gmail.com
30.       Prof. Evelyn Monteiro – srevelynm@gmail.com
31.       Prof. Felix Wilfred – felixwilfred@gmail.com
32.       Advocate Flavia Agnes – flaviaagnes@gmail.com
33.       Francoise Bosteels SDS- francoisebosteels@gmail.com
34.       Dr. George Pattery SJ (Delhi) – gpattery@gmail.com
35.       Gracy Sunder OLP – srgracy@gmail.com
36.       Hazel D’Lima DHM (Mumbai) – dlima.hazel@gmail.com
37.       Helen Saldanha SSpS, former Secretary, CBCI Women’s Commission – helen.saldanha@gmail.com
38.       Jacinta D’Souza DHM – jacinta99@gmail.com
39.       Jacob SG (Ranchi) – jacobpanjikaransg@gmail.com
40.       Prof. Jacob Parappally MSFS -parappally@gmail.com
41.       Jeanne Devos ICM (Mumbai) – jeannedevos333@gmail.com
42.       Joe Mathew SJ -jomathewsj@gmail.com
43.       Joel Urumpil SCN (Chatra) – srjoelscn@gmail.com
44.       Dr. John Dayal (Delhi) – John.dayal@gmail.com
45.       Prof. John T. K. SJ – tkjohnsj@gmail.com
46.       Josantony Joseph (Mumbai) – josantonyjoseph@gmail.com
47.       Jose D. Maliekal SDB, (Vishagapattanam)- jose.maleikal@gmail.com
48.       Joseph C.M (Bangalore) – cmjosephsg@gmail.com
49.       Jose Kavi (Delhi) – kaviyil@gmail.com
50.       Prof.  Joseph M.T. SVD (Mumbai) – mtjosephsvd@gmail.com
51.       Dr. Joseph Neetilal IMS (Neeti Bhai), (Varanasi) – neetibhai9@gmail.com
52.       Judy Siqueira (Pune) – siqueira.judy@gmail.com
53.       Justine Gitanjali Senapati SJA (New York) – msgitanjali.justine@gmail.com
54.       Jyothi Fernandes (Karnataka) – jyothiferna@gmail.com
55.       Jyoti SMMI (Chhapra) – smmi.jyoti@gmail.com
56.       Kiran CJ (Buxur) – kiranmuthucj@gmail.com
57.       Dr. Kochurani Abraham (Kerala) – kochuabraham@gmail.com
58.       Prof. Kuncheria Pathil CMI – kuncheriap@gmail.com
59.       Kurien Kunnumpuram SJ (Kerala)- kuriensj@gmail.com
60.       Latika SJB (Kannur) – latika_sjb@rediffmail.com
61.       Lilly Joseph DHM (Cuddalore) – lillyjoseph56@gmail.com
62.       Dr. Lissy Joseph SCCG (Hyderabad) – lissy9j@yahoo.com
63.       Marcia D’Cunha (Mumbai) – dmarcia20@gmail.com
64.       Dr. Margaret Devadoss – djmagifma@yahoo.co.in
65.       Dr. Margaret Gonsalves (Vasai) – mgonsal@gmail.com
66.       Mary James MCJ (Ahmadabad) – maryjamesmcj@yahoo.co.in
67.       Marianne Puthoor SCN (Gumla) – mjaanscn@gmail.com
68.       Dr. Matthew Coutinho SDB (Jerusalem) – coutmatt@gmail.com
69.       Mathew Pannathanath SG (Banagalore) – mathpan@gmail.com
70.       Meera RGS (Bangalore) – ethammac@gmail.com
71.       Mercy ICM (Trichy) -mercytvpm@rediffmail.com
72.       Mercy Francis MMS (Patna) – mmsmercy@gmail.com
73.       Dr. Metti Amirtham, SCC (Trichy) – mettiamir@gmail.com
74.       Muriel Rego (Mumbai) – arielrego4@gmail.com
75.       Fr. Myron Pereira SJ (Mumbai) – pereira.myron@yahoo.in
76.       Nancy  a. Vaz FDCC (Mumbai) – navazfdcc@gmail.com
77.       Nicholas Barla SVD (Sundargarh) – nickybarla@gmail.com
78.       Prof. Noel Sheth, S.J. (Mumbai) – nsheth43@gmail.com
79.       Noella de Souza MCJ (Mumbai) – noelladesouza@gmail.com
80.       Olga Netto (Mumbai) – ndsolnet@gmail.com
81.       Dr. Pauline Chakkalakal, DSP (Mumbai) – paulinedsp13@gmail.com
82.       Philip Manthara SJ (Patna) – mobile: 9430510537
83.       Philo Thomas RA (Pune) – philovthomas@gmail.com
84.       Philomena D’Souza FMA (Mumbai) – philudsouza@gmail.com
85.       Poonam CJ (Bxur) – cjpoonam@gmail.com
86.       Prabha SND (Bihar) – Prabhasnd@gmail.com
87.       Prashant Olalekar SJ (Mumbai) – olalekar@gmail.com
88.       Ralph Fernandes (Mumbai) – ralph.ralryan@gmail.com
89.       Ramila DHM (Bareilly) – rdodia_77@rediffmail.com
90.       Ranjini SCSC (Darjeeling) – ranjini_seb@yahoo.co.in
91.       Raynah Braganza Passanha (Pune) – raynahbraganzapassanha@gmail.com
92.       Reethamma CCV (Delhi) – reethaccv@yahoo.co.in
93.       Prof. Rekha Chennattu RA – rekhara@gmail.com
94.       Roselyn Karakattu SCN – roselynscn@gmail.com
95.       Rosina SSpS (Madhya Pradesh) – rosinassps@yahoo.com
96.       Roy Lazar A. – roylazar@hotmail.com
97.       Rudi Heredia SJ (Delhi) – rudiheredia@gmail.com
98.       Sabina Pathrose RGS (Nagpur) – sabinargs@hotmail.com
99.       Sadhana SRA (Balia) – sadhanasra@gmail.com
100.     Sebastian Kizhakkekutt (Pala) – sebastian.bodhi@gmail.com
101.     Prof. Shalini Mulackal PBVM (Delhi), President, Indian Theological Association (ITA) – smulackal@gmail.com
102.     Shanti Picardo FC (Siliguri) – picardo.shanti@rediffmail.com
103.     Shanti Fernandes RSCJ (Malwan) -shantirscj@gmail.com
104.     Sherly K MMS (Kerala) – sherlymms21@yahoo.com
105.     Sophie RSCJ (Patna) – sophierscj57@gmail.com
106.     Subhash Anand (Udaipir) – 43subhash@gmail.com
107.     Sujita Kallupura SND (Patna) – smsujitasnd@gmail.com
108.     Suren Abreu (Mumbai) – suren.abreu@gmail.com
109.     Sunita CJ (Meja) – littytt@gmail.com
110.     Teresa Dorjee SCSC (Patna) – teresadorjee@gmail.com
111.     Tessy Paul MSI (Nalgonda) – sr.tessypaul@gmail.com
112.     Theramma MMS (Changanassery) – theramma@gmail.com
113.     Thresiamma Mathew OMMI -thresiamma.ommi@gmail.com
114.     Advocate Tresa Paul SCSC  (New Delhi) -, tresapaulhc@gmail.com
115.     Urmila ICM (Patna) – urmilaicm@rediffmail.com
116.     Valsa MMS (Teni) – valsa.mms@gmail.com
117.     Valerie Siqueira (Pune) – Val_siy@yahoo.com
118.     Prof. Varghese Manimala Ofm Cap (Kottayam) varghesemanimala46@gmail.com
119.     Varghese Theckanath SG (MSI) msihyd2009@gmail.com
120.     Veena SHM (Bhadohi) – sr.veenachandra@gmail.com
121.     Veena Jacob RA (Patna) – srveenara@gmail.com
122.     Virginia Saldanha (Mumbai) Former Secretary, CBCI Women’s Commission & FABC Laity Commission – womynvs@gmail.com

Copies to:

1.    Giambattista Diquattro, Apostolic Nuncio to India.
2.    Oswald Cardinal Gracias, President, Conference of Catholic Bishops of India
(CCBI).
3.   George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly.
4.    Telesphore Cardinal P. Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi.
5.   Bishop Andrews Thazhath, CBCI Vice-President-I.
6.   Bishop Filipe Neri Ferrao, CBCI Vice-President-II.
7.   Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, CBCI Secretary General.
8.   Bishop George Antonysamy, CCBI Vice President.
9.   Bishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, CCBI Secretary General.
10. Bishop Jacob mar Barnabas, Chairperson, CBCI Council for Women.
11. Talisha Nadukudiyil SD, Secretary, CBCI Council for Women

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