Saji Thomas, Bhopal
Updated: December 18, 2020 04:29 AM GMT
Sisters in Solidarity are seeking equal treatment for priests and nuns. (File photo: Pixabay)
A forum of mostly Catholic nuns has demanded equal treatment for priests and nuns, citing the case of a priest continuing in ministry after fathering a child with a nun who has been dismissed from her congregation.
In a letter to the top Catholic hierarchy, Sisters in Solidarity said the Church has been following a "double standard" by dismissing the nun after she became pregnant.
When priests violate the vow of celibacy, "they are merely relocated to another diocese" but when nuns face a similar situation, "they are compelled to leave their congregations," said the Dec. 16 letter titled "A wake-up call to greater integrity."
The letter was sent to Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop and head of the Syro-Malabar Church based in the southern state of Kerala, and other top officials.
The letter referred to Syro-Malabar Thamarassery Diocese transferring Father Jomon Kandathinkara to Shamshabad Diocese in Telangana state five years ago after diocesan officials came to know that he had fathered a baby girl with a Franciscan Clarist nun.
The case hit media headlines recently after some Catholic lay leaders demanded the priest's dismissal rather than a mere transfer.
The nun was dismissed from her congregation and she later married. The case was settled reportedly after the diocese joined the priest to pay some US$36,000 to the woman.
The incident "raises many questions about the Church's pro-life stance, its advocacy of responsible parenthood, and the value it places on the vocations of men and women," the letter said.
"Is a woman religious who becomes an unwed mother considered more answerable for her sexual transgression because she bears the physical burden of her action? Why is her courage to resist abortion and bear the baby to a term not respected and affirmed?" Sisters in Solidarity asked.
The letter referred to the Biblical story of Jesus forgiving a woman caught in adultery when a mob wanted to stone her to death.
"There, too, the man who was part of the sexual act was judged by a different standard. Isn't it time that those with power in the Church moved from the side of the mob to the side of Jesus?" they asked.
Sisters in Solidarity described the reappointment of the priest in another diocese secretly as "unethical."
They also questioned the pro-life stance of the Church after it gave away the child for adoption. They said the Church, despite its pro-life statements, "does not demonstrate a genuine concern about the rights of the child beyond birth."
"If it did, it would not use adoption as an easy solution and instead seek ways to provide a supportive circle to women religious who may want to raise their babies despite the difficult circumstances," they wrote.
Holy Spirit Sister Julie George, a women's rights lawyer and signatory to the letter, told UCA News on Dec. 17 that their letter seeks action against the priest.
"What we see generally is that women, mostly nuns, in the Church are made to bear the brunt of sexual abuses. Even in cases of mutual consent sex, as believed to be in the case of Father Kandathinkara, double standards are followed," she said.
"The yardstick should be the same. If a priest is allowed to continue in the ministry, why not the nun?"
Another nun, seeking not to reveal her identity, said this was not the first case of its kind. "We have come across many such instances, but always the priests are allowed to go scot-free and the nuns were forced out."
"There were also instances when nuns were threatened against even disclosing their pregnancies from the priest," she said.
The Catholic Church had declared a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual exploitation "but we have seen zero action," said the nun. She wanted the leadership to change their attitude for the Church's betterment.