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Indian women demand church voice to curb sex abuse

Movement calls for more female representation on decision-making bodies to help ensure justice

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Indian women demand church voice to curb sex abuse

Members of the Indian Christian Women’s Movement meet in Pune on Aug. 12 to demand female representation on church decision-making bodies. (Photo supplied)

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Female leaders in India have demanded positions on church bodies to help check increasing sexual abuse and accord justice, equality and dignity to women and transgender people.

Some 100 women who met under the banner of the Indian Christian Women's Movement on Aug. 12 in the western city of Pune said women are neglected because of the church's patriarchal mindset.

"We, cutting across age, region and Christian denomination, expressed dissatisfaction at the lack of voice, role and decision-making [powers] for women in church structures," they wrote in a press release.

They also resolved to struggle for justice, equality, dignity and rights of women, children, Dalits, tribals, transgenders and other minorities.

Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, a lay woman and theologian, told that they were very upset over the silence and inaction of the Indian bishops' conference after conference member Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar was accused of raping a nun.

The nun, a member of a diocesan congregation under the bishop, complained to police on June 28 that the 54-year-old prelate raped her 13 times from 2014-16 in a convent in Kerala state.

Police investigations are continuing. The bishop remains in his position, which women leaders fear will stop most nuns in the congregation from giving true testimony for fear of a backlash from authorities.

"We want the church leadership to remove the prelate of all pastoral duties until he comes clean. This will pave the way for an impartial probe into the allegation against him," Gajiwala told after the meeting.

The women also extended full support to the nun, who is under great trauma, Gajiwala said.

Bishop Mulakkal claims that the nun began making baseless allegations when church authorities started disciplinary action against her for violations of her religious vows.

A series of clergy sex abuse cases has rocked Indian Christians in recent months. Among them was an accusation that four Malankara Orthodox Church priests had sex with a parishioner by using her confessional secrets to blackmail her.

Proper representation of women could end sex abuse, including of nuns, and exploitation of all sorts, said Joycia Thorat, a participant and women's leader of the Methodist Church of India.

She told that women should get at least 50 percent representation on church bodies including as bishops and priests in denominations that allow women's ordination.

"Women do maximum work for the smooth running of any church," she said, citing Catholic nuns as an example.

Sister Noella de Souza, national coordinator of the movement, said female religious workers are the backbone of the Catholic Church but not represented on decision-making bodies.

She also advocated the inclusion of transgender people in church decision-making bodies because they suffer discrimination in their own families but have a right to lead dignified lives.

Olga B. Aaron, a transgender activist from Chennai, said people like her face violence in Christian families, neighborhoods, Sunday schools, youth fellowships and other areas of Christian set-ups.

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