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A nun’s story

 | April 13, 2012

The Catholic Church in Kerala has been under a magnifying glass for some years now following autobiographies published by members of the church.

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Years ago, the whispers doing the rounds at a Catholic college in Kolkata, where I studied, were about the sexual affairs between priests and nuns. Or, between mothers/sisters and fathers/brothers.

Since those were not days of bold media exposes, these alleged affairs remained behind closed doors, far away from public gaze. I presume the priests and nuns had their “fun” and minded their business.

I must, however, admit that they were excellent teachers, just excellent and absolutely dedicated to the cause of education. So nobody bothered about their activities outside the classroom.

Now into the 21st century, India is a different place altogether where television and print are extraordinarily gutsy and do not hesitate to air or write about the most salacious of happenings.

The Catholic Church in Kerala has been under a magnifying glass for some years now. About two years after an autobiography by a nun spoke about sexual abuse and homosexuality in Kerala, another of her ilk has published a book detailing sexual “scandals” in the State’s Catholic Church.

Sister Mary (68) walked out of her Catholic congregation 13 years ago – after being a nun for four decades. In a biography of sorts, she shames the Church. She had suffered physical pain and psychological trauma during those 40 years. Often, the sex was permissive and, hence, disgusting.

Besides, she was harassed and humiliated because she tried sticking to her values of sexual abstinence and commitment to the community.

Mary was not the only one. There were other nuns in such a horrible predicament.

The Catholic Church in Kerala has been plagued by stories of this kind. There are frequent reports of suicides and inappropriate sexual behaviour, and Mary’s book is bound to further vitiate the atmosphere.

Mary’s book is the third in a row to describe such sexual misconduct. The biography by Jesme Raphael in 2009 (who abandoned her robes after 26 years), and another by KP Shibu in 2010 (a priest who left the service after 24 years) had sullied the image of Kerala’s Catholic Church.

The books contained lurid accounts of sexual exploitation of men and women. Both about the perpetrators and the victims.

Mary wrote in her book: “There was a lot of unbearable pain and humiliation. Some ran away, some committed suicide. I endured all the pain because of the priest’s words at my first communion as a nun – you should be ready to follow the path of Jesus Christ. These words are still throbbing in my heart and that is why I am a mother to orphans.”

She now looks after orphan children at a small institution she opened in Wayanad in northern Kerala. She literally knocks one door after another to raise money for the children.

Mary’s book and the works of Raphael and Shibu will probably rekindle the debate on the need for Catholic priests to marry.

I still remember the words of one of my college professors – not a priest though. Sex is a very powerful force, he said. Indeed, it is, and being forced to stay away from it could create hassles. I would suppose.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.


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