Children of a lesser God? – Open letter to Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Anglican Church

published on October 26, 2010

From
The Organiser
Savethechildren
Kerala

Oct 26, 2010

To
Dr. Rowan Williams
The Archbishop
Anglican Church

Respected Sir,

Sub: Children of a lesser God?

Let me welcome you to India, and to Kerala, our God’s own country, a land which we feel has been blessed by the Almighty.

As can be said about many places in India, the people and rulers of Kerala have welcomed different peoples with the attitude of ‘athithi devo bhava’ or Guest is God. Just as the Zoroastrians escaping from religious persecution in Iran were welcomed at the Gujarat coast, the Jews were welcomed with open arms by kings in Kerala and given land to setup their prayer houses. This attitude of tolerance towards other religions and peoples comes naturally to Hindus. Hindu culture which has internalized a million forms of worship, has always believed that each religion is a different path to the same God and so there is no reason for religious conflict or conversions. There are no major fault lines in our society, and we are perfectly capable of diffusing religious conflicts as and when they occur inside our country.

So it is with trepidation that we view your comments on the unfortunate events in Orissa. India is a sovereign democratic republic, the people of Orissa are our people, and our Government has the sole responsibility and the right to act upon any incident inside our country. Hence we feel that incidents outside the structure of the Church and inside our country should be left to the care and attention of our democratic, elected government.

On the other hand, many of the incidents which fall under the domain of the Church seem to be more difficult for the Government to investigate, given the deep sensitivity we attach to religious freedom. I am sure that in the West too, investigations into Church affairs, albeit under public pressure, have been actively carried out by the Church itself with the active participation of the secular state. I was referring to the large number of cases of sexual harassment of minors inside seminaries, confessionals, and churches all over Europe and America. Crime against children is a crime against God. And we are glad to know that the Anglican Church has investigated and acknowledged to perversions in the Europe church. We also understand that the Catholic Church has given an amount of $2 billion dollars (Rs. 8000 crores) as compensation to children abused by the Church in America alone. The Pope has apologized many a time for abuses inside the church in almost all the countries he has visited.

In India, the Church has been carrying out missionary activities for more than a century. Missionaries from Europe have aided native converts in their work. As such the issue of sexual abuse of children associated with the Church cannot be assumed to be confined to Europe or America. It is unbelievable that perversions of this nature, carried out inside churches in Europe, have not happened in developing countries like India. On the other hand, poverty, illiteracy, and the inaccessible and remote nature of many areas in India, would have provided more opportunities for child abuse. Incidents of abuse in Churches of Kerala have been reported, but given the sensitivity of the secular state to the politically powerful Church, we feel that the full picture is yet to emerge.

You have expressed serious concern about child abuse in Catholic churches in Ireland where a nine-year government study, the Ryan Report published in May 2009, revealed that abuse by nuns and priests were common in institutions that held up to 30,000 children. I am sure you will be equally interested and proactive in unearthing and curtailing such abuses in your institutions in India.

Hence I request you to take the opportunity presented by your visit to our state to set up a mechanism to investigate the issue of sexual abuse of minors within your church institutions, as done by the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia in 2004. I also urge you to publish the report of this investigation within a stated time frame in the manner adopted in European countries. Based on this report, I urge you to announce compensation for the victims of child abuse, to the same amount and in the manner in which it has been given to children in Europe and America. Surely you do not consider Indian children to belong to a lesser God, needing lesser protection and compensation?

Let us ensure that paedophiles in holy orders cannot victimize and prey on our children anymore. I am sure you will be happy to publicly announce concrete steps to eradicate this heinous crime in the religious institutions you represent. At the very least, this will help to spread awareness of such issues among children and their parents, and will help in preventing such abominations in the future. A little transparency will go a long way in curbing this sin.

Expecting your response at the earliest.

Yours sincerely

Savethechildren
Kerala

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