Sexual Exploitation and the Church: A Clarion Call for Reforms

“We need Justice” was inscribed on the placard raised by nuns in Kochi, Kerala. In a protest that is the first of its kind, nuns took to the streets to call for the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, alleged to have raped a sister of Missionaries of Jesus. Never in the history of the church had nuns articulated their grievances against the church in the form of protests. Their end of conscious silence has startled the Catholic church, and has drawn attention from different spheres of society.

From Pennsylvania to a Kochi, the theme of the narrative is the same- sexual exploitation by the clergy. The Catholic Church across the world has been taken over by allegations of sexual exploitation. Perversion and debauchery have penetrated deep into the system of this purportedly monastic life. These beacons of purity have carried on their hedonistic fantasy with assurance of immunity in their power and position, held under the thick shroud of institutional secrecy of the Church. The command, “Thou shall not commit adultery” in the Tora, later delegated to a higher bench mark by Jesus Christ who said “… if you look at a woman with lust you have already committed adultery …”, seems to have been hauled into apparent obsolescence. The Church should have taken responsibility and brought the perpetrators to justice, instead it has gotten itself involved in the business of covering up crimes.

The Church, an institution that should ideally work towards promulgating virtues of kindness and respect has become a cradle for exploitation. Beyond commission of crimes, efforts wielded to cover up the criminal acts of heinous nature- even against minors- have gravely threatened the moral credibility of the Church. In Kerala, a group of nuns came out to protest against church authorities for their attempts to hush up the alleged rape of a nun by Bishop Franco Mulakkal. They are demanding for the arrest of the bishop. It is alleged that Bishop Francis Mulakkal had abused the nun several times between 2014 and 2016 at St. Francis Mission Home and Convent, near Kottayam, Kerala.

The nuns, defying their vows, have united in protests against both the Church and the police. This marks an important juncture in the history of clerical institutions which have traditionally been dominated by patriarchal values. The protest’s sexual nature of grievances indicates deep frustration and gradual picking up of steam for reforms in the Church to cater to changing times. This act by the brave sisters is sure to raise questions over male-dominance in the Church and the consequential exploitation of women.

A few weeks ago in Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court made public one of the broadest-ever investigations into Catholic clerical sex abuse of minors in the United States. In a 1400-page document, the grand jury report named over 300 priests in child sex abuse and over 1000 victims. It however involved cases of only six of Pennsylvania’s eight diocese and, is just the tip of an iceberg. Prior to this revelation, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was very close to Pope Francis, was forced to resign over accusations of sexual abuse from adult seminarians and children.With a wave of sexual allegations against the Church in 2001, mechanisms were put in place for protecting children and the vulnerable. However, the effectiveness of these mechanisms is questionable.

In the corporate world, there are departments and mechanisms to curb the issue of sexual violence in work place. There is a system in place to report, and to hold offenders responsible for their acts. A mechanism also exists to protect the victim from threats and further violence from superiors. The #Metoo campaign that followed soon after allegations of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein gave victims a platform to articulate the injustice done to them. The movement had taken the entertainment industry by storm. On a similar note, it seems that revelations over the extent of exploitation prevalent in the Church is making a clarion call for reforms in the institution to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Currently, it is required that we recognize that the system is infected, and therefore should be treated. There ought to be a call for credible reforms, to address changing times- a need of the hour. Much like in the corporate world, there should be system in place to deal with sexual harassment in churches and seminaries. An effective system for reporting and to hold the guilty accountable, would deter people from committing crimes in the first place. In addition, a call to end the custom of celibacy in the institution, could be a positive step toward reforms.

Further, the protests by the nuns in Kerala is a slap on male-dominance and patriarchy prevalent in the institution of church. In this context a push for credible empowerment of woman within the institution of church, is a potential prognosis. Let not the voices of victims be silenced, yet again.  Let the Church heed to the clarion call for reforms.

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