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'There ought to be transparency in the church'

'There ought to be transparency in the church'

Author: Shreya Roy Chowdhury
Publication: The Times of India
Date: August 7, 2009

Battling stigma, the Catholic church and her own family, Sister Jesme, a former principal of St Mary's College, Thrissur (Kerala), wrote Amen. The book, she tells Shreya Roy Chowdhury, is her candid account of moral corruption within the church:

Q.: When and why did you decide to write the book?
A.: I went to Delhi to gather courage to leave the convent. Jesus worked many miracles on that journey to make my escape possible. I was helped by friends and even accepted into their homes during that difficult time. I was wonderstruck and decided to write. I also believe that there ought to be transparency in the church. I believe that God made me an instrument; it was my duty to speak up.

Q.: Did you protest while you were still a nun?
A.: Usually junior sisters are not expected to speak at all. But i started protesting even before i was a senior. Synasis, held once ever three years, is a representative body of the church. I was an elected member. They put me in Mother Prudential's group with all the important councillors. I was told to be meek and humble, "like Jesus". Jesus was also a revolutionary. But they never consider that. For them, it's all about how much he suffered without uttering a word. The authorities use the vow of obedience to control us, saying, ''You are under strict obedience, obey this.'' It is the interpretation that matters. Taking the vow of obedience means that we will obey the will of God. But the authorities make everything look like the will of God.

Q.: What does corruption do to genuine vocation?
A.: Some sisters are sincere but the atmosphere is spoilt. Nuns must bring in as much money as they can and are asked to vote for particular political parties as well. Only a small percentage joins out of genuine vocation. Nowadays we get vocation from poorer families. There are more children and it's a relief if one joins the convent/seminary. The general belief is that the child who joins the convent is the best in the family, very holy and divine. The younger ones join to earn respect. Even the juniormost sister in charge of a post in the college or hospital is powerful among those who come. Then you needn't worry about your future, job or money.

Q.: How has life changed outside the convent?
A.: My students, social workers and other intellectuals are all with me. They invite me to meetings and ask me to speak. Some of the students called me and said that the teachers who were against me are all my admirers now. The church insists on chastity but they can't live it. Why take the vow of chastity if you're not going to keep it? Why can't we take a stand against it, say we can't take it? The system should be transparent. We should say what we practise. If we don't, we have no right to advise others.

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