Gender Relations in the Church: A Call to Integrity and Justice.
Pune, 15th August, 2010.
1.1 On the 15th August, 2010, feast of the Assumption of Mary and the anniversary of India’s Independence, we, 24 women and men responded to the call of Streevani, Pune, to ‘ponder’ like Mary and discern the liberating voice of God’s Spirit in recent events that have challenged the Catholic Church.
1.2 Mary’s revolutionary song of freedom from oppression expressed in her Magnificat, was a fitting backdrop to this national consultation on “Gender Relations in the Church: A Call to Integrity and Justice” that focused on two important concerns: 1) “The Gender Policy of the Catholic Church of India”, published by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, 2010, and 2) the need for a policy to address sexual abuse in the Church in India.
2. Our Reflections on the Gender Policy:
2.1 We recognize at the start that a Gender Policy brought out by the Bishops, while well meaning and a visible sign of the Bishops’ sensitivity to the low status of women in the Church and society, cannot but have limitations given the patriarchal nature of the Church.
2.2 However, we express our appreciation for the sincere commitment of the Bishops of India for drawing up guidelines for empowering women in the Church and society and to the allotment of financial resources and personnel for its implementation. This Gender Policy when critically interpreted will stand as a yardstick for transformation, both for the bishops and the faithful, for generations to come.
2.3 While we realize that the gender policy is not exhaustive, we experience hope in the progressive objectives that leave scope for creative interpretation, and the suggested strategies and mechanisms for creating awareness, networking and implementation.
2.4 Reflecting on the main themes of the Gender Policy we identify some lacunae which need to be addressed. Thus it is observed that:
1. Gen 1:27 could have been developed from the perspective of a Trinitarian God described as a community of equals who are same, different and relational.
2. The Supreme Court Order dated 13.08.1997 for “Implementation of the Guidelines Contained in Supreme Court’s Order in the Case of Sexual Harassment of Women” at the Workplace and Other Institutions“ has not been adopted by the Gender policy. There is need to recognize the institutions of the Church as the workplace of priests and other Church personnel, and therefore subject to the relevant laws of the country.
3. The power structures that subordinate women in the Church has not been adequately dealt with. Primary among these is the hierarchical nature of the Church which effectively keeps women out of leadership, decision making and access to resources.
4. No mechanism has been provided for the redressal of women’s grievances against Church personnel and structures.
3. Our recommendations:
To make the vision, mission and objectives of the Gender Policy a reality we realize that the Catholic Church of India needs:
1. To form groups at all levels of the Church to discuss and critically deliberate on the Gender Policy.
2. To conduct awareness programmes on the Gender Policy in seminaries, formation houses and among women and men in religious congregations.
3. To set up Resource Committees and Monitoring Committees in all dioceses for the implementation of the Gender Policy.
4. To form advocacy and task groups to ensure that the gender-sensitive provisions of the policy are implemented in letter and spirit.
4. Our Concern for the Victims of Sexual Abuse:
4.1 We place the recent episodes of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church within the larger context of widespread violence against women resulting from ‘Man’ having “broken the right order that should reign within himself as well as between himself and others and all creature” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 13.)
4.2 We proudly proclaim the Church’s consistent stand on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, and victims of conflict, injustice and violence and recognize these Christian values as the roots of the altruism and respect for human rights that imbues our contemporary world.
4.3 We express deep concern for the victims of sexual abuse by Church personnel and identify some factors that have given rise to such situations. These include:
1. The patriarchal society which provides the milieu for a patriarchal Church with men exercising power as control and domination over women and children.
2. The disparity between our democratic society and our vision of an egalitarian community, and the governance in the Church which is hierarchical.
3. Christian teaching and images of God/man/woman that have promoted the image of the ruler and the ruled, and socialized women, especially women religious, to subservience, silence and inferiority, making them vulnerable to various forms of exploitation, violence and sexual abuse by men.
4. The deification of priests through the inordinate and disproportionate focus on the person of the priest alone as ‘Alter Christus,’ entitling him to unquestioning obedience.
5. The vulnerability of women, who are dependent on priests for spiritual and/or emotional counseling particularly in times of personal crisis or difficulty.
6. The culture of silence borne out of women’s fear of bringing shame to themselves, their family/congregation and the Christian community in India.
7. The clerical culture of secrecy that seeks to deny and cover up the cases of sexual abuse among clerics in an attempt to uphold celibacy of the ordained.
4.4 While searching for solutions to the problem of sexual abuse, we note with pain that whereas paedophilia has received the attention that it deserves, 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’ - patriarchal relations in the wider society which are accentuated and rendered more powerful by the patriarchal authority structures within the Church.
4.5 We observe too, with a sense of shame that attempts to address cases of sexual abuse frequently focused more on preserving the good name of the Church rather than on our obligation to protect and obtain justice for the vulnerable amongst us in keeping with the mission and example of Jesus Christ, in whose name we serve.
4.6 We also draw attention to the distinction between sexual abuse as a sin and as a crime and the implications therein including the complicity of religious institutions in not reporting crimes.
5. Our recommendations:
5.1 A We would like to initiate a dialogue with the Bishops of India so that together we can work 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, their families, the accused, and the community.
5.2 Towards this end we recommend:
1. That every diocese, province and congregation have a formal policy to address sexual abuse from the perspective of the abused; the Visakha Guidelines issued by the Supreme Court of India must be used as a reference document while framing the policy.
2. That instances of sexual misconduct be treated as a crime and offenders prosecuted under existing laws regarding violence against women and children, and sexual harassment in the workplace.
3. That structures be set up in every diocese based on the recommendations of the Guidelines for Sexual Harassment at Workplace that requires the formation of Gender Development Cells which are responsible for the promotion of a gender-sensitive environment and redressal mechanisms; such grievance cells must have counsellors, legal professionals, women and representatives of the clergy as its members, and, most importantly, must be headed by a woman.
4. That women in the Church be educated about ‘double patriarchy’ and its implications.
5. That information be disseminated on the implications of sexual abuse, mechanisms for its prevention and avenues of redressal; a manual may be prepared as a resource.
6. That a code of professional ethics be articulated for pastoral workers including priests.
7. That priests and people be educated on the vision of Church as a community of communities and a discipleship of equals, where priests, women religious and laity work in partnership and are co-responsible for bringing about the Reign of God on earth.
8. That the servant priesthood of Jesus be emphasized and the “fatherhood” and “lordship” of priesthood be demythologized.
9. That formation programmes for priests and women religious:
Deconstruct notions of women’s dependency on men that render women docile even in the face of sexual harassment;
Address issues of intimacy, friendship and emotional health within the context of celibate life.
Teach a celibacy that enriches consecrated/priestly life,
10. That women’s congregations:
Encourage intellectual formation and research;
Empower their members to become assertive and critical thinkers.
Form leaders with imagination, creativity, courage and commitment.
6. Our Commitment:
In the light of our reflections we commit ourselves:
1. To engage in an ongoing critical discussion on the Gender Policy from the perspective of women and promote all in the policy that empowers women;
2. To hold the bishops to their commitment to the implementation of the Gender Policy;
3. To advocate zero tolerance towards sexual abuse of women and children in the Church;
4. To campaign for a policy that views sexual abuse in the Church as a violation of Human Rights and therefore as a crime punishable under Indian law;
5. To work towards the putting in place of processes and structures for reporting sexual abuse, that are sensitive and confidential, and that include women.
The Consultation is but a first step towards a sustained commitment and proactive participation in the Church’s initiative towards gender justice. It is a “call to integrity and justice” through networking and collaboration with family institutions and structures in the Church. As we strive to wipe away every tear (Rev 21:4) and bring healing and wholeness, we are inspired by Mary’s Magnificat that proclaims the “greatness of our God” who looks with compassion upon the hurting.