Indian church guidelines tackle workplace sexual abuse

National Catholic Reporter

November 28, 2017

By Jose Kavi

NEW DELHI — Catholic dioceses and religious congregations in India are in the process of implementing a set of guidelines that the bishops’ conference required when it released its sexual harassment policy for the workplace two months ago.

A 60-day checkpoint for setting up diocesan and congregation committees as the first stop for sexual harassment complaints passed on Nov. 14 without much progress, but response has also been slow to similar directives in a 2013 national law.

The “CBCI Guidelines to Deal with Sexual Harassment at Workplace” were released Sept. 14 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India amid demands from church groups for a policy to rein in increasing sexual abuse cases involving priests.

Though the 28-page document, which took two years to prepare, steers clear of mentioning priests, those demanding action against clergy abuse still find it a welcome step by the Indian church.

Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, a laywoman theologian and a founder and member of the Indian Christian Women’s Movement, said publication of the much-awaited guidelines is a “cause of celebration” as the document fills “a critical lacuna in the church.”

Gajiwala was among more than 100 theologians, women religious, priests and feminists who wrote to the bishops on March 22, a month after a Catholic priest was arrested for allegedly raping and impregnating a minor girl, his parishioner, in Kerala, southern India.

The new document sends “a strong message that the bishops mean business when it comes to zero tolerance of violence against women that they advocate in their Gender Policy,” Gajiwala told NCR. She was referring to the “Gender Policy of the Catholic Church,” which the Indian bishops’ conference published in 2010.

Yet the sensitivity of the topic was evident in that bishops responsible for the policy deferred comment to a female secretary of the conference’s Council for Women.

What the bishops have done in the new guidelines is to draw heavily from a 2013 national law on the same matter but also extend it to men and transgender people as possible victims of abuse.

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