Lately, our country has been all agog about an alarming spurt in the crimes against women and children, with the involvement of the Church authorities, leading to much distress and consternation. The crimes range from cheating and criminal intimidation to betrayal of faith and confidence, blackmail, rape and trafficking in body organs and sale of infants. The incidents have given way to much soul searching and introspection and rethink among the women’s groups and authorities alike. Meanwhile, well-meaning people, cutting across the religious barrier, have started analyzing the circumstances and situations leading to the crimes and exploring possible ways and means of preventing their recurrence.
Spate of Rapes by Clergy
Following an egregious spate of rapes by priests across the country and more particularly in Kerala, the Supreme Court took cognizance of the matter and wondered as to what was happening in that state as priests were becoming accused in rape cases. This question was posed by the apex court following the arrest of four clergymen in Kerala on charges of raping a married woman. Apart from married women, young girls and even nuns have fallen prey to the carnal desires of amoral clergymen.
What stood out as a common factor in practically all cases of rape reported against the priests was the betrayal of faith reposed in the men by women who were in distress and worried about having sinned in the past and the exploitation of their helplessness by the very same men who had promised to deliver them absolution.
A woman who goes to a Church for making a confession is a potential target for the unprincipled and unscrupulous men among the clergy, looking for easy prey to satiate their animalistic instincts. Blackmailing her into submission, the human predator on the prowl exploits the weakness of the prey to his advantage, not infrequently multiple times, with equal participation by his associates from the clergy.
Reasons for Spurt in Rapes
One possible reason for the recent explosion in the number of rape cases could be the coming forward by more and more victims in the open with accusations against priests unlike in earlier times. Another reason could be the role played by the social media, which has been acting as a bellwether whistleblower of crimes in contrast to the mainstream media agencies that are often found in shackles of allegiance or loyalty to powerful individuals or social lobbies. How easy is it for a mainstream newspaper or television channel to report the case of rape of a woman who is a non-entity for all practical purposes, by Clergymen with powerful reach of contacts at the level of the spiritual stratosphere?
For every case of rape registered with the police, how many incidents of rape go unreported in the country even today for fear of stigma, bad publicity, vengeance, etc is anybody’s guess. But for the yeoman service rendered by social organizations concerned with the welfare of women and the social media, life would pass on for most of us as yet another parody on a lazy summer afternoon without an exposure to the ugly underbelly of the society.
Fallout of Rape by Clergy
What makes the case of a rape by a priest unique is that the victim is from the same religion as the perpetrator, and well-known to the attacker. The familiarity of the priest leaves a chink in the armour of the woman who goes to the Church in the first place to make a confession, and leaves her vulnerable to blackmail by the same priest who threatens to disclose her confession to her family members if she does not cooperate and grant him sexual favours. That the clergyman is violating the norms of behaviour stipulated by the Church regarding confessions, meant for the ears of no other human being, is beside the point. Likewise, what action is taken against him by the Church for his bargaining for sexual favours in return for absolution is yet another matter.
When the blackmail and the rape by a priest are reported by the woman to the higher authorities in the Church, they are often reluctant to initiate action against the accused and seldom pass it on to the police. The woman may be reluctant to go directly to the police as bypassing the Church might make her fall foul with the powerful Church. What if she were to be penalized and ostracized by the Church? But for the timely counselling by the right agencies, she would likely end up a tortured soul. She would quite likely wallow in self-pity and blame herself for bringing about the calamitous situation and its fallout.
There have been numerous cases of women being cheated, betrayed, and physically abused, often multiple times by more than one person in the habiliment of the Clergy. The knowledge that the perpetrator of the crime often gets away with it all, with a mere rap on the knuckles at the end of internal enquiries and proceedings, if at all conducted, by the Church, makes the position of such women all the more pathetic and gruesome.
Baby-Selling & Child Trafficking
Missionaries of Charity (MOC), an organization founded by late Mother Theresa, was recently found involved in trafficking of infants when one of its nuns, working in a shelter home in Ranchi, was caught red-handed along with another employee, selling an infant of an unwed mother staying at the Home. She confessed to selling three more children from the Home on earlier occasions for monetary benefits. The sale of children could not be dismissed as sporadic incidents by an errant functionary. The Home was responsible for the wellbeing and the accounting of the children. Furthermore, there is a big question mark over the young destitute girls that are pregnant and staying at the Home. Whether these girls were victims of an organized racket of prostitution is now a matter for investigation.
Bones & Organ Trade Racket
Shocking incidents of beating up of old inmates, including women, and harvesting of bones of dead inmates and trafficking in human organs were reported early this year at an NGO named St Joseph’s Hospice in Tamil Nadu, which offers shelter to old destitute people. The inmates were denied a decent funeral upon their death. Thousands of bodies have been reportedly buried in concrete vaults. The police are investigating into the appalling conditions in the Hospice and the allegations against it.
Church & Police Investigations
The Church and several organizations affiliated to it and run by pastors are now in the eye of one scandal too many. Several police investigations and court cases are underway. Against this backdrop, the full cooperation of the Church in police investigations has not been forthcoming. There was even a case of a bishop in Kerala claiming some time ago that he was answerable only to the Vatican and to no authority in India. In the case of investigations into the activities of the MOC, Mamata Banerjee lost no time in accusing the BJP-led Narendra Modi government of trying to use the case as a tool to besmirch the image of MOC. Such are the odds against which the police have to work to complete their investigations.