21 March 2009
Kochi: Nuns in the church are being discriminated against and treated shoddily by priests who force them to wash clothes and cook meals, a cardinal has claimed. The candid admissions by Cardinal Mar Varkey Vithayathil, who is also the Major Archbishop of the Syro Malabar church, has been made in a book titled, 'Straight from the Heart', released recently. "There have always been complaints that religious women are used as task force by parish priests. They just bear up the ill treatment, fearing the priests may not say Mass for them or fulfil their spiritual needs if they protested. These things are happening in a number of places," Vithyathail says.
Religious women very often depend on bishops for land and money to start a convent. They feel they have to deal with priests and bishops with the utmost reverence, almost like slaves. "A big complaint of our nuns is that the diocesan priests are treating them like servants, making them wash their clothes, prepare their food, wash the churches etc. and that too without getting paid. These are all unjust ways of treating women religious," he says.
The cardinal's insight into the lives of nuns in church comes close on the heels of a book by Sister Jasme, which created a storm in church circles. Jasme had alleged sexual abuse, corruption and power struggles in the 'dark. The book is a collection of interviews given by the cardinal to Father Paul Thelekat, church spokesman, over a seven day period while Vithyathil was undergoing treatment. Vithyathail says that priests should know that the Church teaches equal dignity of man and woman and to act accordingly. "Women are not to be used by the Parish priest, they must be respected and loved", the 81 year-old cardinal says.
At a Catholic Bishop Council of India (CBCI) meeting in Jameshedpur, there was a suggestion that women must get 50 per cent representation in the Church organisations. To start with, they must get 35 per cent. "But that may take some time, because we are fighting against a culture of male domination." The spirit of obedience to the bishops was on the wane and there is always a thirst for more comforts by diocesan priests, he said. On the many scandals surrounding the church, particularly the Sister Abhaya case, in which two priests and a nun have been arrested by the CBI in connection with the mysterious death of the nun 16 years ago in a convent in Kottayam, the Cardinal says "we very much want the legitimate state authority to investigate and take steps to punish the guilty. The Church does not want to protect anybody guilty."
On allegations that bishops and priests are trying to cover up things, the cardinal said "we should resist the temptation of covering up certain things to protect our good name and some individuals. But in the case of Abhaya case, I believe the Church is not trying to cover up anything or protect anybody."