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Letter to Cardinal Gracias on the Alleged Abuse of a Religious Sister by the Bishop of Jalandhar

To, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Pope Francis’ Advisory Committee Member, President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), Archbishops’ House, Mumbai.

Dear Cardinal Oswald Gracias,

Sub: The Alleged Abuse of a Religious Sister by the Bishop of Jalandhar Diocese.

We, the undersigned are deeply concerned about the integrity and mission of the Indian Church and write in the context of the growing scandal and the adverse publicity the Church is receiving with regard to the handling of the case of the alleged sexual abuse of a Religious sister by the Bishop of Jalandhar diocese.

We are particularly concerned about the mud-slinging going on between the Bishop and his priests on the one hand and the aggrieved sister and her family on the other that has turned the Church into an object of ridicule for people of the entire country, thus causing a lot of harm to the Church and in particular to the faith of the people of God.

In view of the above and now that the case has gone to the courts, we urge you to please advise Pope Francis to relieve the bishop concerned of his pastoral responsibilities, so that the Church is seen to actually practice the ‘zero tolerance’ it professes to observe in abuse cases. With the accused bishop continuing to remain in his position as Bishop of the Jalandhar diocese, it will continue to erode the faith of the people in the credibility of the Church to implement its policy of zero tolerance and act justly in abuse matters.

We also request you to advise the Bishops of India to publicise and create adequate awareness about the CBCI Guidelines to deal with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, 2017, and institute the structures and procedures described therein without further delay. To preach justice the Church must be seen to practice justice (Synod of Bishops, 1971). Sadly the representations made by the Religious sister to the Bishops have brought no response, raising issues about the credibility of the CBCI policy.

We would like to draw your attention to our letter addressed to the earlier President of the CBCI on 22nd March, 2017 and request you to kindly take action on the points made therein and reiterated below.

To this end kindly ensure that:

1. Every diocese respects and complies with the State laws with regard to addressing abuse cases of minors and sexual harassment of women in the Church.

2. The policy to prevent and deal with Sexual Abuse of Minors and Vulnerable Adults, as well as the Policy to prevent and deal with the Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace are disseminated to all the faithful and stake holders in Church and Church institutions so that they can be effectively implemented.

3. The required structures are set up within every diocese of the Church in India to address cases of sexual abuse and 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. The contact details of persons responsible to receive complaints should also be publicised prominently.

4. Greater attention is paid to the choice of candidates for the priesthood as well as to their formation in the seminary. This must include 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 clergy.

5. Catholic Church leadership in India does not take a silent or indifferent stand when a case is reported because it apparently protects the perpetrator. When a man who represents God to people, is a sexual offender, faith in the God he represents is shaken to the core. To the physical, mental and psychological trauma of the victim 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.

We trust that Christ who is our light, and who always stood up against the exploitation of women will stand with the Church and give the CBCI the courage to do what is right in the cause of justice for women in the Church. Pope Francis has shown the way by holding accused Bishops accountable even at risk to the reputation of the Church. We look to our bishops to follow his example.

Yours sincerely,

179 Signatories - Lay, Religious Sisters, Priests.

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