The courage to confess

The courage to confess

Cloistered life in a convent is mostly barred from public view. The mystique gives ample room for unhealthy practices unrelated to ecclesiastical life. Nuns who have accepted Jesus as their spouse are expected to spend their days in prayer, meditation and service for the poor. This may not always be the case.

One who has taken the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience is forced to suffer in silence if she encounters injustice and undesirable activities inside the nunnery. It takes remarkable courage to leave a congregation as an ex-nun faces ostracism by her family as well as the community and may not have the wherewithal to lead an independent life.
Last year Sister Jesme shocked the Catholic Church in Kerala by coming out of the Congregation of Mother of Carmel after 33 years and daring to expose the unsavoury happenings in the congregation.

She had to quit after being hounded out of the post of a college principal as she was outspoken in her views against collecting capitation fee and manipulation of admissions. Persistent attempts of the Church authorities to have her declared insane gave her no other option. Her autobiography Amen, first published in Malayalam, lays bare the dark side of the monastic life.

Sister Jesme has opened a can of worms. She refers to a clear class distinction prevalent as nuns who come from poor families and less educated ones are allowed to do only menial jobs in convents. She finds the rot too deep as many priests and nuns who have renounced worldly possessions while entering the order are after money and power. Jealousy, intrigue and backbiting are quite common. Sr Jesme speaks of nuns who revel in others’ sufferings.

Though vowed to celibacy there are priests and nuns who indulge in sexual relations. She speaks of a priest who insists on kissing every sister coming for confession. Lesbian links among nuns are not uncommon. Sr Jesme herself was the victim of a senior nun’s advances. She had the mortification of being molested by a priest during a visit to Bangalore.

Another issue that Sr Jesme draws attention to is the gender bias as the freedom and comforts that priests enjoy are denied to nuns. She finds the affluent life style that many priests enjoy as the root of the ills plaguing the Church. Though out of the habit, her devotion to Jesus and the Church remains undiminished.

This nun’s story is a scathing indictment of the regimentation followed by the hierarchy-based Church. Hers is a passionate plea for reforms by bringing in transparency and accountability. There is a need to shed excessive secrecy surrounding the religious world, she argues and asserts that the people have a right to know what is happening inside the prison-like enclosures in their midst.  

Sr Jesme’s narration of her trauma is direct, sincere and sensitive. Leaders of Catholic Church cannot turn a blind eye to the serious issues raised in the memoir. The Church that wields enormous clout in Kerala rarely tolerates dissent. It tends to sweep under the carpet any scandal related to priests and nuns.

The sooner it sees the writing on the wall and initiates corrective steps, the better. However unpalatable it might be, the truth has to be faced squarely.  

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