We often share things about the Universal Church on this page. Over the last few weeks, things in Church around the world have been imploding around sexual abuse and we have remained silent. We would not want anyone to think that our silence is a symptom of ignoring the issue, because it is not. Our silence is rather a symptom of having nothing left to say. It is a symptom of our heavy and broken hearts and a constant disappointment. We feel that words are no longer enough. We have heard others give reasons for people to stay in the Church, but we understand completely why some won’t and some feel they can’t.
Sexual abuse, especially at the hands of those in positions of power is nothing new and is not confined to the walls of the Catholic Church, but we must face that it is and has been within it and the Church, East and West, is vulnerable to it. We have been sickened by what has happened in Pennsylvania, the McCarrick abuse scandal and the scandals in Chile and elsewhere. We really wish we never have to hear about it again. We have read and listened to many people, many with much more expertise than us, give us reasons why it is happening and what the solutions are. To the amazement of many, sometimes even ourselves, we stay in our Church, even when we are surrounded by the stench that is overwhelming us. Perhaps because we believe the Church and our spiritual lives transcend beyond the stench. But if we are to stay we must also recognise that this is no time to remain silent or to allow the stench and those who caused it to hijack the conversation. Voices calling out abuse must be supported, and we must demand that they be heard.
One case that has not received as much attention in this saga is a case we have been following which involves a Catholic Sister in Kerala. She made allegations of rape against a Catholic Bishop. This is not the first instance of religious sisters making complaints of harassment by clergy.
We should begin by saying we believe that everyone deserves the right to due process and natural justice, including the Bishop accused and against whom the allegations have not been proven. We accept that things become difficult when the allegations involve people of such high profile and when the media and others are ready to decide cases even before the law has.
It is difficult to ever get to the truth of something from media reports, but there appear to be some relatively undisputed facts of the incident. On 27 June this year a Catholic Sister lodged a complaint against a Bishop accusing him of sexually assaulting her over a period of two years starting in May 2014.
Last Sunday, five other sisters from her order and other supporters staged a silent protest about the alleged inaction, both from the authorities and the Church, that has occurred in relation to the investigation of the incident. What followed from a politician is unbelievable, except that it occurred in a public press conference and was recorded.
PC George, a politician said the following regarding the Sister:
“No one has doubt that the nun is a prostitute. Twelve times she enjoyed it and the 13th time it is rape? Why didn’t she complain the first time?”
The politician went on to demand a virginity test. The statements were captured on television here.
When a legislator comes out even before the investigation is concluded with such a statement, it is very difficult to be confident that things will be investigated transparently. Moreover, it makes it more difficult for others to come out and report such incidences. If we learn anything from all this, it is that all complaints must be taken seriously. Investigations of institutionalised abuse have revealed that so often the abuse continued because victims were not heard, because those that knew about the abuse remained silent, because those who reported it were not believed or because complaints were never investigated. Even more often, it was because people in power were more concerned about their reputation and the reputation of the Church than concerned with doing what was right.
Today we pray for all those who have experienced sexual abuse, especially by those in positions of power in our own Church. We pray for all those who have to endure the consequences of it in fear and we pray, in this season of the Glorious Cross for our Church, that light will triumph over this darkness.
We understand that some readers may themselves have experienced sexual assault.
Be careful about disclosing your experience on social media. Others may not understand the issue causing you further distress. If this article causes you distress seek help from a rape service provider in your area. In Australia you can call 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732 (24 hour service). In NSW you can contact the Rape Crisis Line 1800 424 017 or go to http://www.nswrapecrisis.com.au/. The NSW Rape Crisis is a 24/7 telephone and online crisis counselling service for anyone in NSW – men and women – who have experienced or are at risk of sexual assault and their non-offending supporters.