Barely two years after it was slammed by “An Autobiography of a Nun” that catalogued the lurid details of bullying, sexual abuse and homosexuality,”the Catholic Church in Kerala is set for another attack by a former nun.
Sixty-eight-year-old Sister Mary, who left her Catholic congregation in Kerala 13 years ago in disgust after 40 years of nunhood, is ready with her exposé. In a biographical sketch titled Nanma Niranjavare Swasthi, to be released next week, she heaps more ignominy on the Church.
Sister Mary talks in vivid detail about the extreme pain she had to endure during her tenure with the congregation: physical and psychological oppression, the sexual permissiveness and abuse prevalent among some of the nuns and priests, and the harassment she faced for sticking to her values and commitment to service.
She also talks about the miserable sense of abandonment, rathen than sacrifice or service, that some of the nuns feel.
For the Catholic church in Kerala which is already under attack with a wide range of allegations ranging from oppression of its nuns, abuse, suicides and inappropriate sexual behaviour, the new book will certainly be further bad publicity.
Two biographical accounts; one by Jesme Raphael who gave up the nun’s robes after 26 years of service (2009) and another by a male priest, KP Shibu Kalaparambil who left after 24 years in white (2010); had in the recent past, dented the reputation and order of the Catholic Church. Both of them had explosive revelations including sexual exploitation of women and men.
In her memoirs Sister Mary, born in the Palai area of eastern Kerala, describes how she wanted to be a nun at the age of 13 and ran away from home to a Catholic congregation. Although she “found her path of service at the altar of the god”, what awaited her was four decades of hardship, betrayal and absolute disappointment.
Unable to take it anymore, she abandoned her robes in 1999 but continued her service to humanity by establishing a modest orphanage at Wayanad in north Kerala. According to Jose Pazhukaran, the writer who helped Mary put together the memoir, she literally begs door-to-door to raise the resources for her orphanage. “She is now doing what she couldn’t accomplish as a nun - to serve humanity and be a mother to abandoned children,” says Pazhukaran.
“There was a lot of unbearable pain and humiliation. Some ran away, some committed suicide. I endured all the pain because of the priest’s words at my first communion as a nun - you should be ready to follow the path of Jesus Christ. These words are still throbbing in my heart and that is why I am a mother of orphans,” says Sister Mary.
Firstpost has gained exclusive access to the excerpts of the book to be published next week by Kairali Books, Kannur.
Translations of two chapters of the book are given below:
Those who read sex magazines
Some of the nuns used to read books with filthy pictures. I used to wonder how they laid their hands on them. Once I noticed that one of the nuns mostly stayed in her room with the doors bolted.
She was very good looking and otherwise active, but I didn’t clearly understand the “clandestine things” she was up to.
One day, I found out that she was reading a filthy magazine. A magazine that had pictures of naked men and women. I was very upset. Once you pledge yourself to be a nun, such temptations can compel you to give in. Privately, I admonished her and warned her that she should not repeat it, lest I should tell the the matron of the provinciate. I also promised her that I wouldn’t tell anybody. I used to wonder who got them those magazines.
I also resented the male priests coming to the convent without any reason. I really didn’t like how some nuns spent so much time with them and flirted with them. I thought that it could lead them to wrongdoings that could bring disrepute to the congregation. I complained to the mother, but she kept evading it.
Most of the time, what you saw if you accidentally walked into a room of the nuns was shameful. I haven’t seen even a handful of them who were chaste. I just told myself that what comes from flesh has to be flesh.
There was this church hospital at one of the convents when I spent my time there. The hospital was adjacent to the church. I came to know that a doctor at the hospital and a nun had an affair. Once when a patient was brought to the hospital in a critical condition, the doctor was found missing. We, the nuns, frantically searched for him; but he was nowhere to be seen.
Knowing their closeness to each other, I somehow felt that he would be closeted with the nun somewhere. Finally, my search led to a room from which I heard hushed voices. I brought them out of the room and angrily told them that such behaviour wouldn’t work.
I didn’t know what they were doing in the room, but I am sure it wasn’t something good. I told him that a doctor is worthless if he cannot attend to a patient in an emergency.
Many others also advised the nun that she could get out of the robe and marry so that the congregation’s name is not sullied. The mother, an Italian named Luccia, was informed too. I told her in Italian that those two had been carrying on for a while and they should be thrown out.
The issue simmered for some time and both the doctor and the nun went back to their old ways. Subsequently, the doctor even threatened to kill me. But, almost everyone seemed to side with them and I felt isolated. I just had to ignore what was happening.
They got married later and the nun left the congregation.
I was really disgusted with the way the convent worked and was really reluctant to continue there. It even affected my taking the communion and my confessions. I felt disgusted the way some uncommitted priests conducted the church rituals. They were plain perfunctory.
There was a practice of assigning daily duty for everyone in the convent. To avoid work that they didn’t like, such as farming, some nuns stayed in their rooms. They mostly seemed to feel that they had lost something in life.
40 years of my life as a nun went through such contradictions.
Right from my childhood, I handled the difficulties I faced without letting my family and others know. Therefore, this sense of aloofness was growing in me. In fact, I realise only now that on such situations Mother Mary was giving me the mental strength.
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