June 29, 2009 / 10:27 AM / 8 years ago

Ex-nun urges Indian Church reform in tell-all book

NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - A Roman Catholic nun who left her convent in India after 33 years of service has penned an unflattering picture of life within the cloistered walls in a book that may further embarrass the Church.

A worker works on the roof of a church ahead of Christmas in Siliguri in this December 23, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/Files

In “Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun”, published in India in English this month, Sister Jesme tells of sexual relations between some priests and nuns, homosexuality in the convent and discrimination and corruption in Catholic institutions.

The 52-year-old outspoken former college principal left the Congregation of Mother of Carmel in Kerala last year after what she described as the authorities’ repeated attempts to have her declared insane.

“Amen” grabbed media headlines in February, when it was first published in Malayalam -- the regional language of Kerala.

With the new English edition and offers of a film based on the book, Sister Jesme’s plea for a reformation of the Church is now set to reach a wider audience.

Father Stephen Alathara, a spokesman for the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, told Reuters the organisation was unruffled by the book’s publication.

“We are not at all concerned about this book. It’s not an issue for the Catholic Church to give an answer to these kinds of silly books,” he said.

Sister Jesme, who goes by only one name, told Reuters in a phone interview that she is a “little cautious” these days.

Q: Are you still in the Catholic faith?

A: “I am part of the Catholic Church. No pope has disowned me. I haven’t got any excommunication rule.”

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: “I wanted to tell people that society has a right to know what is going on inside (the convent). Why do we have so much secrecy? I say the Church is afraid of things, they are hiding things because they don’t have transparency. They are scared of something, maybe of losing money or losing power.”

Q: In the book, Catholic colleges are portrayed as money-making institutions ?

A: “Now we all are thinking of business, business, business. We do charity, whatever we do, our first question is what do we get out of it, what is the profit? Even the charitable deeds. I am not 100 percent against the Church. They are doing good deeds. I don’t tarnish the image of all the people. But even these good people are not able to do the right thing.”

Q: Do you think the vow of chastity by priests and nuns has become a burden?

A: “If we take the vow, we should obey it. Otherwise, let the vow be taken away. These days we give importance to quantity, we run around and bring people inside and with all other attractions, they are made into priests or sisters. What happens is that they find it difficult to live the life of chastity. Even all the other vows are difficult but in the 21st century, this has become a real trouble.”

Q: Is the Church aware of these ills?

A: “They don’t want to face those things. Only if they can’t hide, they take action. There are some foolish believers who still believe nuns are 100 percent pure and priests are 100 percent pure.”

Q: Do you believe things can change?

A: “There should be a change in the church and religious. Because of the power and wealth, I don’t know what is happening to our bishops and archbishops. I really pity them. They came with good intention. Why do they get into the clutches of wealth and power?”

Q: How has the Church reacted to your book?

A: “The English edition has just come out and I am not getting any strange (phone) calls. But the Malayalam edition, I got plenty of curses and shouts and what-all nonsense.”

Q: How do you spend your time now?

A: “One thing is I am very free to pray. I do my own cooking, washing, reading. Some people call me for talks. Some people ask me to write on certain topics. I am also planning to write a novel about a woman, a different type of woman.”

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