Seeking New Paths through the Abuse Maze

September 6, 2010

Virginia Saldanha

In response to a recent article in highlighting the issue of sexual abuse of women in the Church, Sister Helen Mendonca of Streevani (Voice of Women), a Pune, India-based human rights group, called for a consultation on the problem. That group developed guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse in the Church in India.

Viriginia Saldanha reports on the group’s findings and their call for a dialogue with India’s bishops.

The original document containing the group’s recommendations can be found here The Assumption of Mary and the anniversary of India’s independence provided the inspiration to a committed group of women and men gathered at Streevani, Pune, India, to discern the liberating voice of God’s Spirit in the recent events of sexual abuse that have challenged the Catholic Church.

While acknowledging the many positive contributions of the Church to society and the country, they rued the absence of structures and processes for reporting sexual abuse.

These need to be sensitive, confidential, and include women the group decided.

They felt that:

• Patriarchal society provides a milieu for a patriarchal Church with men exercising power as control and domination over women and children.

• Christian teaching and images of God/man/woman that promotes the image of the ruler and the ruled, socializes women to subservience, silence inferiority, and compounds vulnerability to various forms of exploitation, violence and sexual abuse by men.

• The “deification” of priests entitles them to unquestioning obedience.

Participants were concerned about the vulnerability of women, who are dependent on priests for spiritual and/or emotional counseling particularly in times of personal crisis or difficulty.

This was compounded by the culture of silence borne of the fear of bringing shame to themselves, their family/congregation and the Christian community in India.

Finally, the group also raised concerns about the clerical culture of secrecy that seeks to deny and cover up the cases of sexual abuse to uphold celibacy of the ordained.

With pain they noted that women’s stories of abuse are frequently discounted.

“Consensual” sex is often cited as a mitigating circumstance with little or no awareness of the defenselessness of the woman trapped under the weight of “double patriarchy” (that of the wider society as well as the patriarchal authority structures within the Church).

They emphasized the distinction between sexual abuse as a sin and as a crime and the implications of that.

They expressed a desire to initiate a dialogue with the Bishops of India towards providing a safe and secure environment for children and vulnerable individuals in all institutions of the Church, and a pastoral and just response to victims,

They call for a code of professional ethics for pastoral workers including priests.

The group is also recommending that formation programmes for priests and women religious be updated to include various topics related to the empowerment of women and prevention of abuse and violence to women and children.

They committed themselves to advocate zero tolerance towards sexual abuse of women and children in the Church and to campaign for a policy that views this sin in the Church as a violation of Human Rights and therefore as a crime punishable under Indian law.

The group will now move beyond the first step initiated by this consultation, inspired by Mary’s Magnificat that proclaims the “greatness of our God” who looks with compassion upon the hurting.


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