By MR LALU
The supreme patriarch of the Catholic Church the Pope apologizes again. This time it is Pope Francis who extended an apology to the indigenous community of Canada. The pope’s visit to the country was mainly to tender an apology to the community for the forced assimilation of their children at the residential schools run by the Catholic Church and the gruesome persecution carried on them. He called his tour of Canada a “penitential pilgrimage”. This time, in his usual gesture of apology, the Pope said that he regretted and begged forgiveness for the evil committed by the Catholic Christians against the indigenous people of Canada. By doing this the Pope was referring to the innocent children who never returned from the schools where they were forcefully taken away for education by the Church. The assimilation policies of the church, he reiterated, has marginalized the indigenous people and robbed them of their language and culture. A cultural genocide as it is known today has been committed on a genuine group of people who lived a life of natural concomitance along the line of nature and purely indigenous in their behaviour and pattern of life. About 150000 indigenous children were forcefully taken away from their families and sent to church-run residential schools in Canada. And they were neglected and were made to suffer physical and sexual abuse and many of them never returned and those who survived could never come out of the trauma. More than 60 percent of the schools were run by the Roman Catholic Church and an investigation carried out on the missing Indigenous children unearthed hundreds of graves reaffirming the death of more than 4000 of them due to neglect and sexual abuse.
Pope Francis represents the spiritual papacy of 1.3 billion Catholics across the globe and an estimated 20 million Catholics live in India. Before him, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II also apologised on various occasions. The faithful are supposed to swallow the brutality that the church dispensed on its people and the apology by the papacy is believed to hold the power to purify the rot. Though nunneries are part of the Catholic religious establishment, it is largely a patriarchy that runs its administration. The darker side of the Christian history is a reality which is essentially a depiction of the coercive and atrocious intimidation by the church. The policy of the church was to civilize the indigenous settlers by converting them to Christianity and the means and methods chosen by it remained unquestionable. One of the other occasions when the Pope regretted and expressed ‘pain’ was when a startling revelation brought the horror stories of sexual abuse ran on more than 216000 children by members of the clergy in France over a period of 70 years. The Pope did not hesitate to hold a summit on ‘paedophilia in the Church’ and demands to criminalise sexual abuse in the church establishment followed. But unfortunately the church itself covers and conceals the errors that it committed inside the confinements of its institutions. There were multiple occasions in which the papacy apologised to the victims on whom the church was brutal. Most of the apologies were made for the cruelty committed by the clergy.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) came out with guidelines for the followers of the church with a mind to seriously check the sexual assault that its clergymen are known to be involved. The document was titled “CBCI guidelines to Deal with Sexual Harassment in Workplace.” The Catholic Church has about 174 dioceses in India with hundreds of congregations and service activities and firms run by Catholics across the country. The guidelines were to check the increasing number of sexual assaults and Pope Francis’s “zero tolerance” exhortation made the Indian wing of the church to come heavily on the issue. The clergy under the papacy is expected to follow celibacy and remain unmarried by the customs and traditions and standards of the church under its monastic disciplines. This indeed throws a large number of its clergymen into committing unpardonable crimes like sexual harassment on children and nuns but most of such offences are usually covered up or whitewashed. But the issues that see the light of the day bring bone chilling evidence of pain and persecution. The sexual abuse of religious sisters by priests and bishops is a bitter reality that in recent days has shattered the hopes of many among the faithful in India too.
Sister Lucy Kalapura, the famous rebel Catholic nun of Kerala made chilling revelations on the depth of decay that has been polluting the seminaries and monasteries run by the Roman Catholic Church. She was later dismissed by the Vatican on charges of “violation of vows of obedience and poverty”. Her dismissal from the church was signalling to what we call the dominance of the patriarchy which controls the system. Lucy’s agitation demanding the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal who was accused in a case pertaining to the rape of a nun belonging to Jalandhar based Missionaries of Jesus had ultimately lasted in her ouster from the church and the accused bishop was later acquitted by a Kerala court. There is plenty of evidence for an invincible patriarchal power that frequently curtails the freedom of nuns and controls their lives within the church. Sister Abhaya was 21 when she was brutally attacked inside a Kerala convent and dumped in a well inside its premises. The judgement after 28 years brought justice to her family sending a priest and a nun who threw the young woman in the well to jail. We can also see instances in which the Pope refused to offer an apology. The clerical sex abuse controversy in Chile did literally put the Vatican in trouble, to which the papacy responded by sending a sex crime expert to that country. The Pope culminated the accusations on the predator priest calling them mere slanders and stayed away from extending an apology for want of solid evidence to prove the crime. The accused priest was later appointed to head another diocese. The steps taken to curb sex abuse by the priests in the religious edifice of Catholic Church could not help the menace melt and Pope Francis, for that matter, could not provide any credible solution to protect his flocks from predator priests. Between the faithful and predators, does the Pope’s apology bring a new hope?
(Author is freelance journalist and social worker based in Kerala. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])