Church objects to women panel’s suggestions on nuns

via Pioneer News Service | Thrissur published on June 4, 2008

The recommendation by the Kerala State Women’s Commission that there should be a law against parents who forced their girl children into becoming nuns in convents of Christian congregations before maturity has enraged the community, especially its priesthood. The community sees the commission move as yet another outrageous act against it in the particular context of its continuing complaint that various arms of the CPI(M)-led Government were out to destroy Christian faith.

Close on the heels of the quick protests against the commission’s recommendation from Syro-Malabar Church spokesman Fr Paul Thelekkat, the palace of the Thrissur Archdiocese issued a statement criticising the move of the Women’s Commission. The Archdiocese stated that the recommendation by commission chairperson Justice D Sreedevi hurt the religious sentiments of Christians.

It said that the commission should have made some enquiries to know the truth of the matter before issuing such instructions with ominous significance. The Archdiocese explained that the Church (specifically, the Roman Catholic Church) had well-defined rules for initiating a girl into the convent life. There were also clear rules to the effect that only girls who had attained 18 years of age could become nuns.

The commission had said that no girl should be forced to become a nun before she attained the age of 18 and if any parents forced her to become one, they should be punished by law. It also said that there should be a law to protect women who chose to give up the nuns’ life at any time should be given financial security.

Justice Sreedevi said that the commission was particular on this point as several women were finding themselves hapless when they come back from nun’s life. The prime reasons for this, she said, family property was not available to her once she became nun.

Reacting sharply against the Women’s Commission’s recommendation, the Thrissur Archdiocese’s statement said that the recommendations were equivalent to finding fault with parents who wanted their girl children to have a good life. However, the Archdiocese made clear that nuns could have no right to property as all of them entered nun’s life after taking the “poverty pledge”.

Fr Thelakkat was straight. “The Church laws are already clear that no one who has not attained maturity age is allowed to enter nun hood. It is most unfortunate that the commission has reached certain conclusions without doing any homework or hearing the views of the Church,” he said

 “The Canon Law (rules followed by the Catholic Church universally) is very clear that before attaining the age of 18, no one would be allowed to take a Temporary Vow or the Perpetual Vow, which marks the entry to nun hood,” Fr Thalekkattil told reporters.

There are stages through which a person should pass before becoming a nun like petulancy, novitiate, followed by the temporary vow and perpetual vow, after which the holy garb is given, he pointed out.

In normal cases in Kerala, any person joining the convent would not become a nun before the age of 20 as the entrants were allowed to pursue their studies. They were also free to leave the convent at any stage if they felt it necessary, he said.

“The commission says that the recommendation was made on the basis of a petition it received. But before reaching conclusions, it should have enquired what the reality is. But no procedural justice has been done in this case,” the Church spokesperson said.

However, rebel priest Fr Joseph Pulikkunnel said that nuns did face persecution despite the existence of Canon laws. “It is not the lack of laws that is creating problems in the society,” he said. He said that he himself had known of several cases where women had to face hardships after quitting convents.

Social workers are of the opinion that “the observations by the Women’s Commission were methodologically wrong but factually correct”. A Thrissur-based social critic, who is a Christian by birth, says that a good majority of nuns in Kerala had been forced to convents by their parents due to various compulsions, but mostly lack of money to marry them off.

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