The name of the book by Jesme Raphael
Catholic Church stung by autobiography recounting harassment and abuse
After 26 years as a nun, Jesme Raphael gave up her robes and walked out of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, the Catholic order in Kerala, India, that had been her home for three decades. Two years later, Raphael, now 53, has come out with her memoirs, Amen: An Autobiography of A Nun, cataloging lurid details of bullying, sexual abuse and homosexuality in the oldest Catholic women’s order in the idyllic coastal state in southern India. Shocking as it is, the book is only the latest in a long series of accusations and scandals afflicting the Catholic Church in the state with the largest population of Christians in India.
Kerala nuns at prayer photo courtesy The Independent World
A former nun’s tell-all story which details illicit relationships, sexual harassment and bullying in the convent where she spent three decades is causing ructions in the Catholic Church in the south Indian state of Kerala.
In Amen – an autobiography of a nun, Sister Jesme says when she became a nun she discovered priests were forcing novices to have sex with them. There were also secret homosexual relationships among the nuns and at one point she was forced into such a relationship by another nun who told her she preferred this kind of arrangement as it ruled out the possibility of pregnancy.
“I did not want to make this book controversial. I want to express my feelings and to explain what happened to me… I want people to know how I have suffered,” she told The Independent last night, speaking from the town of Kozhikode. “People say that everything is OK, but I was in the convent and I want them to know what goes on. I have concerns for others.”
Sister Jesme, who quit last year as the principal of a Catholic college in Thrissur, alleges senior nuns tried to have her committed to a mental institution after she spoke out against them.
In her book, she says that while travelling through Bangalore, she was once directed to stay with a purportedly pious priest who took her to a garden “and showed me several pairs cuddling behind trees. He also gave me a sermon on the necessity of physical love and described the illicit affairs that certain bishops and priests had”. The priest took her to his home, stripped off his clothes and ordered her to do the same.
She also alleges that while senior staff turned a blind eye to the actions of more experienced nuns, novices were strongly punished, even for minor transgressions. She was not allowed to go home after she learnt her father had died. “I was able to see [the body of] my father barely 15 minutes before the funeral,” she writes. “The [response] of the superiors was that the then senior sisters were not even lucky enough to see the bodies of their parents.”
When she resigned as a college principal, she claimed convents had become “houses of torture”, saying: “The mental torture was unbearable. When I questioned the church’s stand on self-financing colleges and certain other issues, they accused me of having mental problems. They have even sent me to a psychiatrist. There are many nuns undergoing ill-treatment from the order, but they are afraid of challenging it. The church is a formidable fortress.”
The allegations are not the only controversy to rock the Catholic Church in Kerala. Last summer, a 23-year-old novice committed suicide and left a note saying she had been harassed by her Mother Superior. Reports suggest there have been a number of similar suicides. And in November, police in Kerala arrested two priests and a nun in connection with the killing of Sister Abhaya in a notorious 1992 murder.
Last night, a spokesman for the Syro-Malabar order of the Catholic Church, Dr Paul Thelakkat, dismissed Sister Jesme’s allegations as a “book of trivialities”. “It’s her experiences, but these are things that might creep into a society of communal living,” he said. Asked if the church would be shocked by the allegations, he replied: “Absolutely not. The church knows about these things.”
According to Sister Jesme, senior church officials twice tried to admit her into rehabilitation clinics and claimed she had mental problems after she complained about the scale of sexual abuse and the number of illicit affairs between nuns and priests.
Dr Paul Thelekkat, a spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Catholic church said he had some sympathy for sister Jesme, and respected her freedom to express her views, but he believed her claims were trivial. “How far what she says is well-founded I can’t say, but the issues are not very serious. We’re living with human beings in a community and she should realise this is part of human life,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
Jesme’s friend and lawyer R K Asha, who helped her in writing the book, said the work was not meant to tarnish the church’s image as alleged by certain quarters.
“She had shown courage to expose the unholy things happening in convents and whatever she had written are truths,” Asha said.
“We do not want to react to it without properly studying the book. We will come out with our response in a day or two,” Vicar General of Thrissur Diocese, Fr Rafael Thattil, said when the church’s views on the book were sought.
The literary and political circles too have declined to react as most writers are shying away from making any comment when contacted.
The book, published by DC books, has already had its second impression within a fortnight of its release.
PS:-I am not familiar with the workings of the Catholic Church.(or any other religious institution for that matter)but the need to share this news was there after I read about it.Or maybe I am too late in reading about it.
What was curious though is that I couldnt find any blogger discussing ths.I mean, it has happened in one of India’s most progressive states.Hence, it should be even more shocking and should have given us a jolt.And by discussion I mean going beyond news links.I am unqualified to do a discussion on the Catholic church but I am qualified enough to know that this is horrific and needs to be condemned.Why are people not speaking up?Why has this piece of news been swept under the carpet?
This is why religion is so pathetic.Any religion ,any god.You will always find an intermediary between you and god.And all the trappings that come with religion.The useless rites and rituals.The sheer hypocrisy.
A woman is I dont know what to call it..raped?molested?tortured?physically abused?and all that the spokesman can say is”her claims are trivial”?that ”these things happen”?
The Church is in denial mode and the intelligentsia is not speaking up.Atleast not speaking loud enough to be heard.I have immense respect for this woman who has stood up for herself and shown so much courage.May her courage give strength to others also to speak up.Be it any religion ,any place,any woman..they need to be heard and its our duty to make sure that their tale is read and heard by others too.
Edited to add:-Ordinary Guy has given me two links where two bloggers have discussed this issue.I am relieved and glad to see that some of my fears that no one was speaking up were unfounded.Please go here Nuns – Innocents Sentenced for Life time imprisonment by the Church.
and here A. P. Abdulla Kutty and Sister Jesme
A huge thank you to both these bloggers for speaking up about this.
And please I have deleted ‘n’ number of comments because of this tendency to be a troll.
Please remember the discussion and its context.
Sorry about the trend lately of sharing loads of news links,but they too need to be shared…back to usual posts from tomorrow.