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Indian Catholics seek legal action against defamation

They will no longer be mere spectators to media attempts portraying them in a poor light, say nuns and priests in Kerala

Indian Catholics seek legal action against defamation

Indian Catholic nuns attend a Mass to announce St. Teresa of Calcutta a 'co-patron' of the archdiocese at the Cathedral of the Most Holy Rosary in Kolkata on Sept. 6, 2017. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 25, 2022 06:11 AM GMT

Updated: February 25, 2022 06:52 AM GMT

Catholic officials in the southern Indian state of Kerala have begun lodging police complaints against what they call a rising trend in media to defame the Church, particularly priests and nuns.

“Our priests and nuns have lodged more than 160 police complaints across the state against certain online, mainstream and social media platforms for portraying Catholic priests and nuns in a poor light,” said Father Michael Pulickal, secretary of Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council's commission for social harmony and vigilance.

Catholic religious men and women are no longer going to be mere spectators to the deliberate attempts to denigrate their image before the public by publishing lies, half-truths and misleading facts, he told UCA News.

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Father Pulickal said Kerala police were refusing to register their complaints in some cases but the bishops’ council and other church bodies will “not succumb to pressure” and continue their campaign “for legal action until we get justice.”

The government had failed to take disciplinary action and hence “our people are going to lodge as many complaints as possible until the authorities initiate action against those trying to destroy Catholic religious life,” the priest said.

Among the objectionable posts are pictures of women in religious habits of Catholic nuns posted by photographer Yaami on social media.

We cannot tolerate this anymore. We want the government to act against those tarnishing our image as priests and nuns

The pictures went viral and Asianet, a local news portal, quoted the woman photographer saying: “Two young women in nuns’ clothes hug warmly, walk together hand in hand, and laugh together. The issue is how people look at these photographs.”

Church officials complained that the photos portrayed Catholic nuns as lesbians.

Women do not cease to be women just because they live inside a nunnery, Yammi countered while adding that she did not mean to denigrate Catholic religion or its systems.

“People looked at their clothes [habit], but I looked at the funny side of it,” she said while asserting her right to shoot as per her creative urges.

Church officials said the objectionable photographs were not an isolated case but part of a trend.

YouTuber Jolly Adimathra posted a video calling for an end to the practice of Catholic religious life for women and closing down the nunneries, drawing parallels with the ancient practice of the Devadasis (female servants of god) in India.

The practice was abolished as the Devadasis were sexually exploited by the rich and the powerful linked with the temples. Similarly, claimed Adimathra in the video, nunneries were created to satiate the sexual urges of the male-dominated Catholic hierarchy.

“We cannot tolerate this anymore. We want the government to act against those tarnishing our image as priests and nuns,” Father Pulickal said.

Despite the humiliations and hatred, we continue to take care of the friends and relatives of those attacking us. It is really painful to be called prostitutes or slaves

He conceded that those targeting the community may have been emboldened since the case of a nun claiming she was raped by Bishop Franco Mulakkal made headlines, and although the prelate was acquitted by a court, “the damage was done.”

“The negative portrayal of nuns and priests is a conspiracy to keep the younger generation of Catholics away from religious life,” said a nun belonging to Voice of Nuns, a group of religious who interacts with members of the public through social media on issues that plague them.

“Despite the humiliations and hatred, we continue to take care of the friends and relatives of those attacking us. It is really painful to be called prostitutes or slaves,” a nun from the Daughters of St. Joseph told UCA News.

The nun who did not want to be named sought to remind the critics that if nuns were to withdraw from their dedicated services, the streets of Kerala would be filled with thousands of sick, elderly and the destitute.

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