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Indian women want Catholic leaders to 'walk the talk'

Take concrete steps to end sexual abuse of women and children, Indian Christian Women's Movement demands
Indian women want Catholic leaders to 'walk the talk'

A board reads 'That's the Catholic Church: covering up abuse, putting off reparations but stashing away billions' to protest a recent report on child sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising in Germany. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 03, 2022 04:46 AM GMT
Updated: February 03, 2022 06:38 AM GMT

An Indian women’s group has demanded stringent action against sexual predators within the Catholic Church, exhorting Cardinal Oswald Gracias to remove accused priests and a bishop from their ecclesiastical offices.

The Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM) in a letter mentioned the recent acquittal of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar from charges of raping a nun. The nun who accused Bishop Mulakkal of raping her belongs to a diocesan congregation that functions under the bishop's patronage.

“Is he the proper person to celebrate the Eucharist or lead a diocese, even if acquitted?” the women asked in the letter. 

The ICWN also questioned the hierarchy's relief at the acquittal of Bishop Mulakkal. “Is this an honorable acquittal? What are the moral and spiritual implications that the Church needs to consider, when ‘feeling relieved’ at the verdict?”

The women said Church leaders' callous attitude in dealing with clerical abuse led to a priest--Robin Vadakkumchery--impregnating a minor girl in southern Kerala in 2016.

In another instance, Father Lawrence Johnson sexually abused a minor boy in the Mumbai Archdiocese, where Cardinal Gracias is the archbishop in 2015.

Both priests were convicted by courts. Vadakkumchery was defrocked soon after his conviction while the process is underway in the case of Johnson.

You expressed your concern about children but dismissed the abuse of adolescent girls and women as being ‘consensual'

The signatories to the letter demanded that the Catholic Church set an example of being an institution that ensures justice and human rights.

“It is painful to read the trauma, agony and pain that a child, a family or a woman’s struggle for justice generates,” noted the letter.

The letter was signed by ICWM national secretary Marcia D’Cunha, Sister Philomena D’Souza, Astrid Lobo Gajiwala and Virginia Saldanha along with members of the ICWM and office bearers of other important women's bodies of the Catholic Church

It was sent to Cardinal Gracias via email on Jan. 22 as a personal meeting was not feasible on account of Covid-19 restrictions, the women said.

The ICWN office bearers reminded Cardinal Gracias of their meeting on Jan. 7, 2012, in which they had raised the issue of the sexual abuse of girls and women.

“You expressed your concern about children but dismissed the abuse of adolescent girls and women as being ‘consensual.’ But 10 years later, we still await a reply,” the letter stated.

They also urged the cardinal to announce a clear and transparent sexual abuse policy and set up a well-defined structure to deal with it. At least 50 percent of competent women should be involved at all levels to deal with issues of sexual abuse.

When it came to the implementation of the Gender Policy of the Catholic Church (2010) and CBCI Norms to Deal with Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (2017), nothing happened other than “well-meaning speeches at the Vatican and mere tokenism,” stated the ICWN.

“It is our urgent request to audit parishes and church institutions with 10 or more employees to ensure they have internal complaints committees in compliance with the POSH (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. It’s time to walk the talk,” it appealed.

The ICWM wants Catholic leaders in India to emulate Pope Francis and initiate an “open discourse on this issue. Unfortunately, Indian Church leaders were “seen as sharing a table and breaking bread with the corrupt and mighty.”

The women also urged all right-thinking people to break their silence and end the hypocrisy and “culture of intimidation and blatant dishonesty that seems to have plunged our church into an abyss of immorality.”

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