Letter to Bishops – Concern about Sexual Abuse in 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.

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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.

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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

1https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/francis-gives-vatican-authority-initiate-removalbishops-

negligent-sexual-abuse

2 Letter of the Holy Father to Bishops on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 December, 2016.

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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

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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

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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

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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