India

Women take initiative to wash the feet of women and other marginalized sections

by Kochurani Abraham

The foot washing ritual of women and other marginalized sections organized by the ecumenical feminist women's fellowship 'Women's Lives Matter' ( a local unit of ICWM), at Santwanam  Center for battered women and children, Kottayam,  was a meaningful, joyful and liberative experience for the  women and children who participated in this event and  the  women who conducted it.  The inmates of Santhwanam participated wholeheartedly in this celebration irrespective of their  age,  religion or caste factors. The children joyfully joined in the singing and then competed to wash the feet of the elders.   Even the tiny tots  between the age of two and three sat on the chairs and stretched their feet saying they also want to be washed. No wonder Jesus Christ made them the pillars of the Reign of God!

For the members of' ‘Women's Lives Matter' who conducted this ritual, this celebration served a two-fold purpose.  First and foremost, enacting this ritual  meant  sharing  the grace of  this gesture of Jesus Christ  with a public who are broken and marginalized, drawing inspiration from the initiatives taken by Pope Francis.  Since the mainstream churches in Kerala are bound by the so called ‘eastern tradition’ that restricts foot-washing only to men and boys,  for us  women, it was an occasion to  channelize the Spirit beyond the confines of the Church through this ritual. Secondly, this celebration also gave an opportunity for women and others who are excluded, not just to remain recipients of grace,  but also to  become mediators of this grace. Outside the official liturgy and its politics of exclusion,  this  was an inclusive gesture to realize  the 'politics of the Reign of God' . It was an occasion for women to affirm ‘we are the Church’ with prophetic commitment and a  liberative thrust !

Letter: Including Women and Girls in the Washing of Feet on Maundy Thursday.

31 March 2017

To,

Cardinal Oswald Gracias,
President, Conference of Catholic Bishops of India,

Cardinal George Alencherry,
President Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod (SMBS)

Baselios Cardinal Cleemis Catholicos
President, Holy Episcopal Synod - Syro-Malankara Church

Your Eminences,

Re: Including Women and Girls in the Washing of Feet on Maundy Thursday.

The Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM) together with other organizations/individuals who are co-signatories of this letter come to you with an earnest appeal which has arisen out of our collective endeavour to discern the will of God for the Catholic Church in India in order that we may keep growing as an inclusive community of equal disciples in the Lord.

One of the most encouraging signs in the Church in recent times of such inclusiveness and equality has been the initiative of Pope Francis to include all people of God in the ceremony of the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday. Holy Thursday falls on 13 April this year and we come to you with his humble and urgent appeal so that the example set by Pope Francis may become a reality in every parish in India this year.

For this to happen, the initiative needs to come from you, dear bishop in the form of a clear instruction/guideline to be given to the parish priests in your communication to them, preferably on the occasion of the Chrism Mass so that they may be inspired to catechise the laity and implement this practice in their parishes.

We would like to put on record our appreciation for the dioceses and parishes which have already implemented this practice last year (2016). It is our prayer that this year more dioceses and parishes may take this cue and implement this single-most inclusive liturgical practice pioneered by Pope Francis.

The Decree on Holy Thursday’s Foot Washing Ceremony dated 06 January 2016 made public the significant change introduced by Holy Father Francis. The relevant portion of the text reads thus:

In order that the full meaning of this rite might be expressed to those who participate it seemed good to the Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis to vary the norm which is found in the rubrics of the Missale Romanum (p. 300 n. 11):«The men who have been chosen are led by the ministers…», which therefore must be changed as follows:«Those who are chosen from amongst the people of God are led by the ministers…»(and consequently in the Caeremoniali Episcoporum n. 301 and n. 299b: «seats for those chosen»), so that pastors may select a small group of the faithful to represent the variety and the unity of each part of the people of God. Such small groups can be made up of men and women, and it is appropriate that they consist of people young and old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated men and women and laity [retrieved from https://zenit.org/articles/decree-on-holy-thursdays-foot-washing-ceremony/ on 31/03/2017]

We are of the opinion that the directives given by Holy Father as well as the example that he himself has set (by including representatives from all walks of life, both men and women in the ceremony of washing of the feet during Holy Thursday since the year 2013) are powerful interventions for making the Church visibly and symbolically more inclusive. We as women and men committed to the vision of equal discipleship in the Church are inspired under the prompting of

the Divine Spirit in our collective and personal discernment to present before you, and other leaders of the Church in India our humble request that clear instructions may be issued to all the parish priests and pastors in the respective dioceses exhorting them to implement the exemplary practice of Pope Francis in the spirit of the above-mentioned directive from the Holy See.

We believe that such a symbolic representation of inclusion liturgically celebrated in parishes and mass centres across India will have a healing effect especially in the light of the recent instances of the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church.

We have noted with a sense of concern a news item that appeared in the national press on 29 March

2017 regarding the decision of the Syro Malabar Church regarding this issue. We understand that the modification suggested by Pope Francis is applicable to the provisions in the Roman Missal and hence not applicable to the non-Latin Churches. A report in The Hindu Newspaper quoted George Cardinal Alenchery as giving a clear instruction to the Syro Malabar Church to the effect that in the Eastern tradition the washing of the feet was reserved for men and boys and therefore the whole of Syro Malabar Church will continue the practice of including only men and boys for the ceremony of washing the feet. [http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/syro-malabar-church-sticks-to-tradition/article17738865.ece retried on 31/03/2017]

We would like to request the Syro Malabar Synod of Bishops to revisit this directive and look afresh at the possibility of emulating the esteemed example shown by Pope Francis for the whole universal Church and include all members of the people of God in the ceremony of washing the feet on Holy Thursday.

Similarly, we appeal to the Synod of the Syro Malankara Church to kindly issue clear directives to the pastors and parish priests to include all people of God in the ceremony of the washing of the feet of Holy Thursday, so that in words and spirit we celebrate the all inclusive love of Christ as demonstrated by our Spiritual leader Pope Francis.

Yours in Christ Jesus,

Noella D’Souza, MCJ
Convenor, ICWM
Streevani, Pune.

Indian Women Theologians Forum, Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad Forum of Religious for Justice & Peace Satyashodak, Mumbai,
Dr. M.T. Joseph SVD

Church has to be humane, neither male or female!

‘Holy Father Church’, aging, dying?

A reflection on an interview with Kochurani Abraham in Global Sisters Report

by Dr. James  Kottoor

                           From the time of Constantine, we always had only the “Holy Father Church”,  patriarchy, male dominated. Vatican II brought in Collegiality with bishops. Pope Paul VI asked “Where is half of humanity’’ looking at the Council Fathers, with no mothers in Sight. It was the first vocal public expression of a papal concern for women folks in the Church. Pope Francis speaks a lot about women’s participation even in decision making. He appointed an Irish Lady in the commission monitoring  pedaphols. She quit the post recently out of frustration.

                        It only shows Patriarchcal mindset is so deep rooted to get changed in one generation, two or three. Persons like Kochurani has only one generation to live and so must act at least in her fifties. She did. We need many more ‘Kochuranies’ and ‘Rajas’ to open the blind eyes, deaf ears of Popes and Cardinals  in their ‘Sanyasa’ years.

                      Leadership, in Church or Society, is for the young and energetic, who are in their ‘risk-taking’ years, when they have all their ‘get-up-and-go’ not for those whose ‘get-up-and-go’  got up and went decades ago. In this we have first the example of Jesus himself, in his 30s. Whom are we suppose to imitate and follow?  ‘Sweet Jesus meek and mind only?’  He was also  ‘Bitter Jesus rough and wild”, nay the most morally violent historic figure who showered a long list of ‘woes’ against  the “hypocrites, white-washed sepulchres and brood of vipers?”. Read the whole of Mathew  23. If anyone uttered such words today against the High priests and  Pilots (political leaders) of  any religion,‘calling a spade’ today he is sure to be locked up in prison. Yet the tragic comedy is, Jesus is presented as the paragon of Non-violence, not Gandiji who was much more pacific both in words and deeds.

                   As Sr. Chittister titled her speech at the first world conference of Women’s Ordination  in the Catholic Church, Dublin 2001, “Preaching equality and practising inequality” none can expect from a hierarchical leadership bend with age to take any earth-shaking revolutionary steps like the ones Jesus took. Hence all the talk – and talk only bereft of action ---  like “Vox populi vox Dei”(Voice of the people voice of God”, “Ecclesia simper reformanda est” (Church should change constantly), ‘Church is the people of God’, not the  self-supporting and self-promoting hierarchy. They adamantly continue to proclaim,  that the Church is not  and can’t  be a democracy. ‘Aggiornamento’ (up dating) must have been meaningful for Good Pope, John XXIII, not for anyone after him.

                    So all the Churches, especially the Catholic Church, with its hierarchical structure is incapable of acting like Jesus. It is a counter witness to Jesus who knelt down to wash the feet of his disciples, including betrayers, doubters, deniers. In his famous speech Pope Francis said that his church is to be an ‘inverted pyramid’ where his place was one step below the laity, to rightly deserve the title, “Servant of Servants”, that in his Church all are equal, that now is the time of the laity, when the Clergy are required to look up to the laity to learn and get inspired.

                    Pope Pius XII had said it long ago: “Laity are on the front lines of the Churc.” But has anything changed?  Will anything change in the foreseeable future? Honestly CCV cannot say “YES” to any of these questions for the sake of being realistic. No use trying to appear optimistic or pessimistic, better be realistic. We wish the better enlightened prove us wrong. 

                   By way of conclusion, we also understand,  it is of no use blaming the leadership alone in the Church for acting like the ‘Pharisee and publican’ in the temple, saying ‘we are better than all other churches’. These leaders are chosen from among us. “We get the Government we deserve”,  it is said of  political systems. Think of Donald Government in US. It was voted in by 52 % of Catholics including bishops and priests. These very same people make up the bulk of Catholic Church both in US, India and in every other country.

                 So to change the church for the better we, the laity, have to become the change we advocate, imitating Kochurani, as an inspiring example of leadership in the Church. james kottoor, editor.

Concern about sexual abuse in the Church

22nd March, 2017.

To
Baselios Cardinal Cleemis,
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), Major Archbishop of Trivandrum,
Archbishop’s House, Pattom, Trivandrum – 695 004. Kerala.

Subject: Concern about sexual abuse in the Church

Dear Cardinal Cleemis,

We,  the members of the Indian Women Theologians Forum (IWTF),  Satyashodhak, Streevani, Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace (FORUM), Conference of Religious India (CRI) Women’s Section, and other individuals who are deeply concerned about the integrity and mission of the Indian Church write in the context of the recent scandal involving the parish priest in Kerala who sexually abused a minor girl leading to her pregnancy.

1. Need to recognise issues specific to the ecclesial context
The episode highlights an issue that is unique to the ecclesial context, one which women have been struggling to bring to the attention of the bishops for the past 4 years, namely, that the violation of the fiduciary trust inherent in the priest-parishioner relationship has an additional dimension of damage, because we are taught to believe that the priest is 'another Christ'. When such a man is a sexual offender, faith in the God he represents is shaken to the core. To the physical, mental and psychology trauma is added spiritual trauma. Not just the victim, but the entire family, the faith community and all those involved in the fight for justice are affected, and all need spiritual healing.

2. Need to respect and comply with State laws
Thankfully the State has laws that recognise sexual abuse for what it is, a crime that must be penalised. Similarly, the law regarding the abuse of minors is very clear, and shielding an abuser is now also punishable by the law. Unfortunately in the present instance the Church  seems to have failed on both these counts.   It took an outside agency to blow the whistle on the crimes that had occurred.

One of the purported reasons why the Church is reluctant to expose its criminal priests is the fear that such admissions will be exploited politically by vested interests. It is our contention that when the clandestine management of these cases comes to light it does far more harm, for delayed corrective action festers the wound. If on the other hand the laws of the land are followed it  will  give the signal that the Church  leadership is composed of law abiding citizens, and that the Church as an institution supports justice for the victim.

3. Need for structures to address sexual abuse when it occurs in the Church
The current case will be tried in a court of law, and sadly by the media, but we all know that it is not the first case and will  not be the last. To prevent repeat bungling and criminal activity, not to speak of untold damage to the reputation of the Church and the faith of its people, what we need urgently are structures in each diocese to handle these cases as soon as they occur. The government has already laid down the law for forming Internal  Committees  in  the  workplace,  to  receive and deal with  cases of  sexual harassment of women in organizations that have more than 10 employees.  These committees are required to have women as chairpersons and at least 50% women members including a woman from outside the organization,  working with  women’s issues. The names of the Committee members as well as the objectives of the Committee are required to be displayed prominently in the organization so that employees are aware of whom they can approach. This also facilitates accountability of the employer. The CBCI could insist on forming similar committees in every diocese with the mandate to  conduct enquiries when sexual abuse happens, and the authority  to  make and implement recommendations.

4. Need for a Policy to prohibit, prevent and redress sexual abuse in the Church What we also need urgently is a CBCI Policy to prohibit, prevent and address sexual abuse in the Church. A few of the women among the undersigned have been working with the CBCI Council for Women to bring out such a Policy for the past few years. It has met with many delays. We understand from Bishop Jacob mar Barnabas, the Chair of the Council, however, that the CBCI Standing Committee last year approved a Policy, and we are awaiting its release.      It  is our hope that such a Policy will  not only demonstrate the bishops’ concern for vulnerable victims of abuse, but also restore the bishops credibility with regard to the zero tolerance of sexual violence to women that they have promised in their Gender Policy.

5. Need for greater attention to the choice of candidates for the priesthood and seminary formation
Since the instances of sexual abuse by clergy are being increasingly reported in the Indian Church, we think that greater care needs to be taken when choosing candidates for the priesthood and more attention given to seminary training and on-going clerical formation on questions relating to sexuality and celibate commitment. More importantly  however, there must be conscientization with  regard to patriarchal attitudes that promote condescension and even aggression towards those considered “inferior”, and clericalism that is perceived to place the ordained outside civil law, and permits lack of accountability and transparency. At its root, sexual abuse is ultimately not about sexuality or celibacy,  but about the gross misuse of the disproportionate power assigned to priests. The improper handling of the case of a seminarian caught in voyeurism in 2014,  a case that was much discussed  within  church circles and was finally given an ethnic colour by the local authority in an attempt to protect the accused, points to the need for urgent measures to be taken in this regard.

6. Need to address issues pertaining to clergy-woman religious relationships
The Kottiyoor incident draws attention to another disturbing issue in the Church. We are deeply concerned that some women religious have been charge sheeted under POCSO for allegedly covering up the crime to protect the offending priest. It is a pointer to the many unresolved issues concerning the clergy-women religious relationship in the Indian Church, which need to be addressed and resolved in ways that safeguard the integrity and wellbeing of the Church.

We are happy to note that Pope Francis has taken serious cognisance of sexual abuse by clergy and repeatedly condemned it.  Two years ago while  speaking at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia to a gathering of hundreds of bishops from around the world, he pledged that “Clergy and bishops will  be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.” In June 2016 he laid out legal procedures to include negligence or omission in handling abuse allegations as one of the "grave reasons" that canon law allows for dismissal of a bishop.1  Once again, in a strongly worded letter to Bishops on 28 December.  2016,  he exhorts them to  renew their  commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place. In his words: ‘Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated. In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully, to “zero tolerance.”’2

Our letter is written in the same spirit, to express concern for hurting victims of sexual abuse in the Church, and to suggest measures to prevent such abuse, and when it does occur, to address it in accordance with existing laws and with sensitivity to victims, so that our Church remains a visible sign of justice, compassion and healing.

We remain sincerely in Christ,  who stands as a Champion  of abused and exploited women, and St. Joseph, whose feast we celebrated this month, who protected his young wife from the violence of patriarchal power.

Yours sincerely,
•          Dr. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala (Mumbai) – Co-ordinator, Indian Women Theologians Forum (IWTF) & Satyashodhak,  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
•          Advocate Julie George (Pune) – Director, Streevani, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
•           Jacob Peenikaparambil CMI (Indore) National Convener, Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace (FORUM) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
•          Manju Kulapuram SCSC (Hyderabad) National Secretary, Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace (FORUM) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
•          Rita Pinto RSCJ, Vice President, National CRI,  & President, Women's Section,
National CRI - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/francis-gives-vatican-authority-initiate-removal- bishops-negligent-sexual-abuse
2  Letter of the Holy Father to Bishops on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 December, 2016.

Signatories:
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2.         Agnes Almeida DHM (Ahmadabad) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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89.       Ramila DHM (Bareilly) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
90.       Ranjini SCSC (Darjeeling) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
91.       Raynah Braganza Passanha (Pune) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
92.       Reethamma CCV (Delhi) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
93.       Prof. Rekha Chennattu RA - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
94.       Roselyn Karakattu SCN - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
95.       Rosina SSpS (Madhya Pradesh) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
96.       Roy Lazar A. - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
97.       Rudi Heredia SJ (Delhi) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
98.       Sabina Pathrose RGS (Nagpur) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
99.       Sadhana SRA (Balia) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
100.     Sebastian Kizhakkekutt (Pala) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
101.     Prof. Shalini Mulackal PBVM (Delhi), President, Indian Theological Association (ITA) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
102.     Shanti Picardo FC (Siliguri) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
103.     Shanti Fernandes RSCJ (Malwan) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
104.     Sherly K MMS (Kerala) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
105.     Sophie RSCJ (Patna) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
106.     Subhash Anand (Udaipir) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
107.     Sujita Kallupura SND (Patna) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
108.     Suren Abreu (Mumbai) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
109.     Sunita CJ (Meja) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
110.     Teresa Dorjee SCSC (Patna) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
111.     Tessy Paul MSI (Nalgonda) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
112.     Theramma MMS (Changanassery) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
113.     Thresiamma Mathew OMMI This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
114.     Advocate Tresa Paul SCSC  (New Delhi) -, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
115.     Urmila ICM (Patna) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
116.     Valsa MMS (Teni) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
117.     Valerie Siqueira (Pune) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
118.     Prof. Varghese Manimala Ofm Cap (Kottayam) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
119.     Varghese Theckanath SG (MSI) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
120.     Veena SHM (Bhadohi) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
121.     Veena Jacob RA (Patna) - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
122.     Virginia Saldanha (Mumbai) Former Secretary, CBCI Women’s Commission & FABC Laity Commission - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Copies to:

1.    Giambattista Diquattro, Apostolic Nuncio to India.
2.    Oswald Cardinal Gracias, President, Conference of Catholic Bishops of India
(CCBI).
3.   George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly.
4.    Telesphore Cardinal P. Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi.
5.   Bishop Andrews Thazhath, CBCI Vice-President-I.
6.   Bishop Filipe Neri Ferrao, CBCI Vice-President-II.
7.   Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, CBCI Secretary General.
8.   Bishop George Antonysamy, CCBI Vice President.
9.   Bishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, CCBI Secretary General.
10. Bishop Jacob mar Barnabas, Chairperson, CBCI Council for Women.
11. Talisha Nadukudiyil SD, Secretary, CBCI Council for Women