A Christian group in Kerala has demanded that nuns should be allowed to perform the sacrament of confession for women and minor girls, in the wake of growing sexual crimes involving priests in the state.
They argue that women’s confessions before priests often lead to their exploitation and want the Catholic church to shed what they called its “patriarchal attitude”.
The Kerala Catholic Reformation Movement, which claims to stand for reforms in the church, organised a sit-in protest on Sunday before the archbishop’s house in Kochi to put forward their demand. Members of the movement held placards and banners, saying women are afraid of performing confessions before priests.
Many believers, including women and girls, have welcomed the latest move.
“In Bible, there is no mention that the sacrament of confession should be done only by priests. We want nuns to perform this to check increasing crime involving priests,” Indulekha Joseph, a spokesperson of the movement, said.
She said her organisation is also planning a mass memorandum to Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic church all over the world, in this regard.
A confession, also known as penance and reconciliation, is one of the 7 sacraments of the Catholic church, in which followers seek absolution for sins committed by them and are absolved by a priest.
“There are many instances that during confession the priest concerned asking the woman embarrassing questions. Some find an eternal pleasure in this. Since there are many experienced nuns around, the task should be entrusted to them,” Sister Jesme, who discarded her robe in 2010 alleging sexual exploitation, said.
Her autobiography ‘Amen’ had triggered a controversy in the church and the community. Many like her believe that confession often gives the priest an opportunity to embarrass and exploit the woman concerned.
However, Kerala Catholic Bishop Council (KCBC) dismissed the latest demand as a mere publicity stunt.
“You can’t generalise things citing an incident. The agitation is to get media attention and without understanding the core principles of the Bible,” a spokesperson for the council said.
Two weeks ago, the Mananthavady Diocese was forced to tender an apology after a senior priest allegedly raped a minor girl who later gave birth to a baby.
The victim’s father, belonging to an economically backward family, was promised Rs 10 lakh to own up the crime. But the prompt investigation by the police turned the tables on the priest. A maternity hospital and an orphanage controlled by the church are in the dock.
The accused Father Robin Vadakkumcherry, the vicar of St Sebastian church in Kottiyoor, was arrested while he was planning to slip out of the country.
Besides the priest, the police also arrested 5 nuns for covering up the incident.
Embarrassed by the incident, many favour a strict code of conduct for priest and nuns. Reformists blame insiders for the rot and they are planning to send a letter to the Vatican seeking stringent steps to rein in what they call “wayward priests”.
“Once a crime is committed, the first reaction is an attempt to cover it up. This emboldens others also to commit the same crime,” a spokesperson for the Catholic Laymen’s Association said lauding the latest demand.