Celibacy has absolutely no correlation with curbing instances of rape.
A nun of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church of Kottayam in Kerala has filed a rape case against none other than the bishop.
A bishop is no ordinary individual; he is usually a man of immense influence among Christians and is chosen by priests as their guide and leader. Expectedly, the people of the church are unwilling to accept such unsavoury allegations against such a holy person; consequently, their entire ire has been deflected towards the nun. Her family was threatened to drop the case, even offered money. The incident has created a furore in the country.
Bishop Franco Mullakal had allegedly raped her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. When her complaints to the church authorities yielded no justice, she reported the matter to the police.
Perhaps the worst rule in the Catholic church is that all priests, nuns and bishops have to take a vow of celibacy. They are not allowed to marry or have sex. Not just Christians, such vows of chastity or brahmacharya are common among Hindus, Jains and Buddhists too. Some observe their vows piously, some stray from their path. The Buddhist monks of Japan used to flout their declarations of celibacy so much that they had to be eventually allowed to get married.
I strongly believe that the laws making celibacy necessary for priests ought to be done away with. Not that such a move will ensure that women and children will no longer be sexually violated. But it will, at least, give priests a choice to opt for celibacy. If celibacy is no longer mandatory, it may even result in an increase in the number of people who wish to join churches to serve God. It is a complete misconception that it is not possible to give oneself up to the service of the Lord while simultaneously performing one’s domestic duties. Rather, it is nearly impossible to put one’s mind to something while trying to repress physical unease or dissatisfaction. Sexual desire is as natural a phenomenon as thirst, it is not contrary to the divine. If God created this universe, then sexuality is divine creation too.
Despite sexual harassment being a systematic and rampant problem in the Indian subcontinent, a counter-movement akin to the West’s #MeToo has yet to emerge. Here, if an influential person is accused of rape it does not create any inconvenience for them; instead, people slut-shame the accuser or the survivor.
While many priests sided with the bishop, many others chose to remain silent. One priest went as far as to ask the nun to sort the matter out and offered to buy a plot of land for the convent if the case was dropped.
Around the same time that the nun from Kottayam was fighting bishop Franko Mulakkal of Jalandhar, in another convent at Kerala the dead body of a nun was recovered from a well. Blood stains were found in and around the scene and the deceased nun was identified as Susan.
P.C. George, an MLA of the state, has called the nun in Kottayam a ‘prostitute’ simply because she has dared to report rape. Since she has mentioned 13 instances of rape he has shot back with, “Twelve times she enjoyed it and the thirteenth time, it’s rape? Why didn’t she complain the first time?”
George later withdrew the ‘prostitute’ comment after he came under attack.
Powerful and influential people say the accusation of rape is untrue because she did not report the incident the first time. Some want proof to determine if the bishop did indeed rape her. Did they demand proof during the early days of the #MeToo movement in Hollywood when actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lawrence, Ashley Judd came out with their stories of sexual harassment involving powerful mogul Harvey Weinstein?
A woman’s claim ‘I was raped’ is enough for her to be believed. No one rapes someone with witnesses in the scene. And the process of reporting rape often results in further harassment. Unlike the West, many Indian women are forced to remain silent on most occasions.
In this case, the nun from Kerala was truly courageous to have not been daunted by the inevitable backlash. She gained strength only after 13 instances of violation.
It cannot be stressed enough how patriarchal and misogynistic our society is. It also explains why the nun found herself alone after alleging rape, with even the church refusing to support her. She was denied basic facilities like ration and stipend.
But media and public pressure have forced authorities to look into the matter, leading to the removal of the bishop from his duties and his arrest. Otherwise, the matter would have surely been hushed up. Who knows another dead nun would have been recovered from yet another well somewhere.
Some believe revoking the vow of celibacy will result in a decrease in the number of cases of sexual violence or rape involving the clergy. Celibacy is an irrational and absurd ritual and must be put an end to. But it has absolutely no correlation with curbing instances of rape. Rapists do not rape because they do not have a sex partner or because they are not married – they rape because patriarchy has taught them that they are the superior to women and have the absolute right to control and dominate women’s bodies.
All across Europe and America, people have gradually begun to voice their allegations against the Catholic church because the clergy has continued to sexually abuse children with impunity. Today, many of them are demanding justice. The Pope cannot solve any problems, he merely goes around apologising.
This matter is not restricted to the churches.
Imams of mosques and teachers of madrassas rape and abuse children with similar impunity, just as Hindu godmen cheat people, amass fabulous wealth and keep raping whoever they want. Some have recently been indicted and jailed too. Even Buddhists monks are known to have committed rape and murder, quite against the grain of popular belief about them being honest and nonviolent.
No godman, imam, mullah, pandit, bishop, or even the Pope, must be allowed to get away if found guilty. The history of exploitation and persecution of people in the name of religion is an ancient one. If today we do not build resistance, our future is, perhaps, already doomed.
The author is a celebrated writer and commentator.