Sex, Scandal and the Church: Unjust Crucifixion on Papyrus?
The July 23,2012 cover of Outlook Magazine portraying an innocent young nun crying desperately would evoke heartfelt emotions even from the stone hearted! The title, “Sex Corruption in the church, is spicy and compelling enough to make a cover to cover read. In a nation where the right wing fundamentalist outraged even when Mother Teresa came closer to becoming the greatest Indian post Mahatma Gandhi and in a situation where the venom of accusations have turned the majority Catholics numb to defend, the Church is sure to have a tough time ahead and can expect more ‘exclusive’ features of this genre. The nature of expositions without naming accused individuals and cleverly skipping specific information raises the doubt whether the books and the articles are written with the sole intention of defaming the Church. Two thousand years post the unjust crucifixion of Jesus on the cross, Is Church being unjustly crucified on papyrus in the twenty-first century?
Assessing integrity of the individuals who have made sweeping statements and analyzing the authenticity of the particular claims they made about the Church goes beyond the analysis of this short article (Even Outlook magazine didn’t do that!!!). The attempt here is to look at a larger picture.
The brutal molestation of an eleven year old girl inGuwahati,Assam by a group of fifty men had online and offline world buzzing with ‘are we safe?’ question from the women folk fearing their safety and security. This indeed is a gruesome incident and an indelible blot on Indian values and traditions, but can we conclude from this incident or from a couple of similar incidents that all men in India are rapists? If western media use the term ‘Indian men’ are predominantly rapists, will any men out there inIndiabe comfortable with this tag? If Yes, then you are free to accuse and to cast the first stone on the Catholic Church for the alleged misdeeds of certain individual priests and nuns.
The sexual aberration accusations are followed by the call to abolish the celibacy in the Church. Is this call logical? No priest or nun in the Church is a slave. He/She voluntarily declares his choice and takes up the responsibility. The strength of the Catholic Church till date has been the disciplined and dedicated service of celibate priests and nuns who worked hard not only for the Church but for the humanity as a whole. The vow of celibacy gives the priests and nuns the added advantage of making themselves more available for the cause of the society and treats them as their own family members. While the majority lead a life faithful to Jesus, the presence of a minority who go off the path are in the spotlight. This minority is the darling of Journalists and Church critics. Should the faithful and responsible majority be crucified for the irresponsible acts of negligible minority?
Priests and nuns diverting money for pursuing their personal interest especially family needs is yet another accusation that has cropped up. If this was something widespread in the Church, then the Catholic Church would have ceased to exist. Here too actions of a small minority are made to look monstrous turning a blind eye towards the selfless service of the majority.
As imperfect human beings, expecting a hundred percent perfect life from all the priests and nuns is impossibility. The society has always treated priests and nuns with great regard with unrealistically high expectations. But when issues and problems crop us, they fail to recognize realistically the fact that they are also human beings with same emotions and share same thoughts like them and are prone to error. This is not an attempt to tone down the greatness and value of priesthood. The priest has the responsibility to nourish his celibate life with deep prayer life and intimate relationship with God while engaging with the world. The faithful and the society should be reasonable enough not to accuse the Church for those acts of the minority arising from their the human fallenness.
Discrimination of nuns in the church was not an issue which took the Church by surprise after reading Jesmy’s book Amen or (Sr.?) Mary Chandy’s Nanma Niranjavale Swasthi (Peace to the One filled with Grace) The Church was well aware of this fact and had taken steps to counter this. In the book Straight from the Heart , published in 2008, former Major Archbishop Cardinal Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of happy memories, answers a volley of questions from Dr. Paul Thelakat, the PRO of Syro Malabar Church. Here is one of the insightful question he asked: “Are our women religious discriminated against in the Church? To which Cardinal answered straight and clear, “ …you can’t deny there is some discrimination against women religious in the Catholic Church, but it is much less than the discrimination women suffer in civil society, It has much to do with our country’s general culture of male domination…” The Cardinal didn’t was his hands off blaming the male domination predominant in the society. He continues, “ Women cannot be liberated or treated as equals without the cooperation of men. So the priests should know that the Church teaches equal dignity of man and woman and act accordingly.” Stating that the Catholic Bishops Conference of India was aware of this fact, he shared the decision of the Jameshedpur meeting where 50% reservation for women in all Church organizations was suggested, and to begin with at least 35% was recommended. The Major Archbishop was realistic when he said, “But that may take some time, because we are fighting against a culture of male domination.”
Priests are not angels dropped down from heaven. The traits of uncivilized qualities predominant in the society like male domination are sure to have an influence on them. But portraying discrimination against women as something unique to Church doesn’t make sense. Those who try to establish it as a ‘Church only phenomena’ are ignoring the facts and shrewdly twisting the facts to pursue their hidden agenda ignoring the proactive steps taken by the Church to counter this situation.
The self proclaimed ‘whistle blowers’ of the Church claim themselves that the motive of writing the book and maligning the Church in public is to set off reformation in the Church. The Church has gone through dark ages yet it has undergone reformation from time to time. Those who worked hard for reforming the Church, did it from remaining within the Church. They didn’t go out in the public to proclaim the evil deeds of the Church instead they stayed within their monasteries/convents and sowed seeds of reformation making positive impact all over the Church. St. John of the Cross, a reformer of the Carmelite order was imprisoned by his fellow priests in the monastery and brutally torture including weekly public lashing before the community. After being freed, he didn’t set himself describing his torture but engaged himself fully in reforming the Carmelite Order, which has gone wayward. History reveals that with a renewed Carmelite Order, the waves of reformation swept the whole Church. One need not wait for the history to reveal whether the ‘reformation’ with the help of news channels and Press will beat fruit in the modern world!
Scandals in the church, even if it be of a small magnitude are spiced up by all possible means and would appear as ‘cover stories,’ ‘breaking news’ in TRP and readership starved media. The humanitarian and selfless services of the majority would be easily ignored and forgotten. These scandals should not act as a deterrent for the Church but it must be a catalyst to engage in more socially oriented actions, a challenge for priests and nuns to lead a contrasting life faithful to their divine vocation, a call to the Church leadership to fast track ways and means to remove discrimination of any sort and make sure that erring individuals are never protected but punished.
Last Bite : Minu Ittyipe narrates the expose of Sr. Jesmy, (Sr.?) Mary Chandy and Fr. Shibu Kalamparabil in Outlook Magazine under the title “To Cast the First Stone.” It would have been great if Minu had given a thought on what Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast the first stone!!”
The author is on twitter as @jeffshawn