Various Christian associations in Kerala submitted a combined petition to state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday seeking an impartial investigation of complaints of harassment of nuns in Catholic convents.
The memorandum was submitted by the Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement (KCRM), the Joint Christian Council, and the Catholic Priests and Ex-Priests & Nuns Association.
This comes in the wake of a complaint filed by Sister Mary Sebastian of the Nasreth Bhavan Convent at Cherpunkal in Kottayam with the Womenâ€™s Commission as well as the police a couple of months ago, alleging that the Catholic Church is forcing nuns to take drugs for supposed mental illness.
She was later expelled from the convent, with the Church apparently issuing continuous threats against her.
â€śThis is a very common occurrence in convents. Many of the nuns are sexually abused by the priests. Those who refute such sexual advances are treated very badly. All these incidents make these nuns depressed. They are then forced to take psychiatric drugs on a regular basis, or face the threat of being abandoned in mental asylums,â€ť says Reji Njellani -chairman of the Catholic Priests and Ex-Priests & Nuns Association- while speaking to The News Minute.
He adds that those nuns who speak out are particularly targeted by the Church, which supposedly has even formulated certain standard operating procedures to deal with such cases.
â€śNo one dares to speak against the Church in public, as it is a very powerful societal entity, be it socially, economically or politically. Those who are thus harassed are unable to seek redress for the same. This nun somehow managed to file a complaint, which subsequently led to even more severe harassment. That is when she contacted us,â€ť Reji shares.
According to him, such nuns usually leave convents only after complete loss of sanity, with many being treated in mental asylums owned by the Church itself.
â€śA few months ago, a 65-year old nun came to us for help, saying that the Church was deliberately trying to tag her as a mental patient, as she had asked for some money for treatment of an illness. We intervened, and the congregation even agreed to give her the money. But later, we came to know that she has been dumped in an asylum,â€ť he recalls.
A thorough enquiry is what he believes is needed to investigate the several unnatural and mysterious deaths of nuns. â€śWhen we file a complaint, the police spent more time enquiring about us, rather than try and find out whether there is any truth in the complaint. The Church is very powerful.
We hope to at least spread awareness among the coming generations that such things happen within the walls of a convent. That is the only thing we can do at the moment.
How can a normal woman who joins the convent become mentally unstable over the years? Continuous, mental and sexual abuse would make any one sick. Any nun who objects to these evils is singled out by other nuns for weeks together, thereby forcing her to eventually fall in line, or lose her sanity,â€ť he alleges.
Responding to the allegations, Father Paul Thalekat -former spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Kerala- affirms that it is indeed illegal and punishable by law to confine a nun or any person within a convent without their consent, or administer medicine without proper prescription.
"Legal measures can be and should be taken. Errors of judgement may happen in the Church, but unfounded accusations and calumnious statements only expose the accuser. Criticism is welcome, where there is hope and faith in certain values.
Unfounded calumny merits only silence and prayer. But I realize one thing; there are certain people who are angry and offended within the faith. The Church can hear their reasons and grievances in charity and forbearance.
This is Christmas time, when we remember God was born into a situation considered most God-forsaken by the mankind. Perhaps God is telling the church something through these people," the priest avers.