att00248Sex predators of Christian Clergy and The Church Cover-up


Dr Babu Suseelan


During the past several years, the mass media in Kerala has been awash with reports of Catholic priestly pedophilia, sex abuse of nuns by the clergy, nun suicide, and Church cover-up. The politically powerful Christian Church has been reluctant to admit that sexual abuse by the clergy is a widespread occurrence. Repeated media stories report accounts of both long-term and situational incidents of nuns being sexually abused by the clergy, murder of nuns, physical abuse of children in Christian management schools, sexual abuse of children in Bible Schools, ragging in colleges and violence against nuns. The consequences of sexual abuse are traumatic and long lasting. What is hard to accept is why the Church refuses to accept sex abuse by the clergy. Sex abuse by the clergy is a harsh reality, and the Church must understand what it is, know the factors-both physical and behavioral-that may indicate its existence, and be familiar with repeated occurrence.


The general public is becoming more aware of the extent and nature of sex abuse by the priests. Nationally reported sensational trials of priestly sex abuse and murder have brought priestly deviance and Church cover-up into focused attention. The CBI investigation of the nun Abhaya murder trial, arrest of Catholic priests and supervisory nuns forced the public to confront sex abuse, murder, and the Church blame shift and cover-up. Nun Abhaya was murdered because she had witnessed priestly sex with her supervisory nuns and she spoke out against sex in the convent. Another nun Anupama had committed suicide allegedly unable to face sexual harassment by senior nuns. Another senior nun Jesme has written in detail in her autobiography about brutal, inhuman sex abuse by priests and nuns. She has reported experiences with sex abuse, attempted or actual rape, assault or violence. In spite of repeated cases of sex abuse, murder, suicide and assault, the Church has attempted “knee-jerk” reaction, cover-up or quick fixes for this emotionally charged serious problem. The Church with deep pockets and political muscle has been sabotaging high-profile cases. The widespread use of Church money and power has provided increased opportunities to provoke the impression of Christian prosecution. The political-money power of the Church prevents government from arresting, prosecuting and punishing dangerous Christian priests who are sex offenders. As a result, the police, the Judiciary and the government have been reluctant to investigate arrest or prosecute sex predators and deviant priests. The Churches are engaged in media manipulation, blame game and victim abuse. But the general public claim priestly sex abuse clearly exists and is more widespread than believed. Sex abuse by the Christian clergy creates anxiety and apprehension and present serious social problem. Several nuns have committed suicide and many others have become mentally sick.


Most disturbing were the obvious predatory offenders who would, in open defiance, refuse to admit their sex crimes have been transferred to Europe and America. Several Christian priests from Kerala were arrested in the US for lewd, lascivious, or indecent assault and are serving long-term prison sentences.


As a further influence towards sexual abuse in the Christian community, Biblical socio-cultural values that emphasize male dominance, interpersonal violence, negative values of women, and sexual exploitation of children influence sex abuse. Christian women have found that throughout the history of Christianity, the Bible has been used as a Christian scripture for sexual exploitation of women and children. The Christian scriptures contain story after story of violence against women (Genesis 34, 2 Samuel 13, Judges 19, and Daniel 13). Sexual discrimination against women is also derived from passages in the New Testament. “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, not to usurp authority over the man but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in child bearing if they continue in faith with sobriety.” (Timothy 2:11-15). “Righteous man tells horny neighbors to rape his virgin daughters instead of taking liberties with his male guests.” (Genesis 19:1-18). “Though shall not suffer a witch to live.” (Exodus: 18-22).”God Okays captured maidens to be used as wives on a trial basis.” (Deuteronom 21-10-14). “I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the light of this sun.” (Bible God-2 Samuel 11-12). Thomas Paine in his “The Age of Reason” captures the essence of the Bible when he states; “whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind and for my part; I sincerely detest it, as I detest anything that is cruel.”


While the blame must be nightly placed on the individual priests who committed the heinous sexual acts, society must not forget that it is the Christian religion that is also generally responsible. Besides the biggest crime of the silence concerning priestly sex predators, Christianity is also responsible for many other wrong around the world.


The sex predators in the Church feel more protected since the Christian Churches have no policy to identify and restrict known sexual offenders among the clergy. The Churches in India have no policy or guidelines to identify priests having strong sexual propensities. There are several instances where Catholic Sunday school teachers, priests and school officials engaged in pedophile pattern of sexual misconduct in such an egregious nature that there is a substantial likelihood of serious physical or mental harm being inflicted on the victims. The Church holds that predatory sexual behavior does not constitute the kind of injury, pain, or other evil. The Church’s failure in addressing the sexual misconduct of the clergy amounts to ignoring substantial likelihood of serious physical or emotional harm to the victims. There are no mandatory reporting guidelines, sex abuse registration, community notification guidelines, uniform sex abuse reporting requirement, national incident-based reporting system, or any mechanism for national sex crime victimization survey in the Church in order to help Christian community feel safer. Given the criminal and public health significance of sex offenders among the Christian clergy, it is surprising how little has been done by the Church to acknowledge or to prevent such deviant acts. The powerful Churches have no means for measuring sex violence, assault, rape, attempted murder or murder by the clergy, as well as collecting data both prevalence rates (number of victims) or incidence rates (number of incidents). The government is under the political pressure from the Christian Churches and is unwilling to enact laws in an effort to restore a sense of safety and security to the community.

Recently, the Churches have joined together and have formed several “divine treatment” centers for indoctrinating and accusing the victims of sex abuse. The Potta Divine Center near Angamali and the mistreatment of sex abuse victims has sparked considerable debate among Psychiatrists, legal experts, human rights activists. Questions have been raised regarding the legality of such Christian institutions and illegal and unethical treatment of sex abuse victims by the predator priests. The Church has detained many nuns who have been sexually assaulted or raped and labeled them as mentally sick. The labeling process of the victims is used for intimidation, coercive treatment, false imprisonment and to silence the sex abuse victims. These illegal detention centers operated by the Churches have been used for keeping things quiet in an attempt to do ‘damage control’. Hundreds of inmates at these centers have died under mysterious circumstances. Bad publicity has dictated an atmosphere of hushed voices and outrage against those who dare to speak out against illegal detention, forced treatment and sudden death of sex abuse victims.


Law enforcement’s acknowledgement and response to clergy sex abuse has been slow in coming in Kerala. Even today, police officers would rather not get involved in crime, violence, sex abuse in the Church for fear of retaliation from the powerful Christian lobby.


The media, professionals and the society in Kerala must accept the fact that victims of clergy sex abuse and victims of sexual harassment especially nuns have rights and need. The government must enact legislation to ensure financial rewards for sex abuse victims and financial independence from the perpetuators. Freedom of the Church to run religious schools and illegal treatment centers without government regulations must be subject to scrutiny.  The consequences of sex abuse by the priests are traumatic and the ramifications are serious. Although there is disagreement among the Church hierarchy, all agree that sex abuse by the clergy is a serious problem that must be handled by the police and the judiciary effectively. The media must expose and educate the public against clergy sex abuse and use of women as sexual trophies or playthings instead of equals by the Church. Only through ongoing awareness campaign against the special Church privileges, priestly sex deviance and exploitation of nuns and such heinous sex crimes can be put to an end.