If Canon laws were strict, No Nuns should have filed complaints- Women’s Panel

published on July 6, 2008

State women’s panel opposes rights body over nun’s age issue

Pioneer News Service | Thiruvananthapuram

Two quasi-judicial bodies – the Kerala State Women’s Commission and he Kerala State Human Rights Commission – are on a collision course over the issue of the decision taken by the former to recommend to the Government the formulation of legislation to fix 18 years as the lower age limit for girls to become nuns at Christian convents.

With Justice De Sreedevi, chairperson of the Women’s Commission objecting to the act of the Rights panel of serving on it a notice seeking explanation on the issue, the matter is set to turn into a battle between the two quasi-judicial bodies. The Human Rights Commission had on June 13 served a notice on the women’s panel and asked it to treat it as urgent.

Responding to queries on the notice, Justice Sreedevi said the Rights panel had no legal knowledge. She added that the Human Rights panel did not know what human rights meant.

The Rights Commission had issued the notice and called for a report on an application filed by Sister Jane Ancil Francis, president of the Council of Catholic Women of India, an organisation sponsored by Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC). Sister Jane had said that under Canon law 656, for taking oath for becoming nuns, one had to complete 18 years of age and as per the law 658 after completing the training and taking the final oath, the nun should be 21 years of age.

The nuns were also free to leave the congregation at any point of time if they so desired and there was no hardship, she stated in the application.

She also said that the Women’s Commission’s stand that minor girls were being enrolled as nuns was ‘irresponsible’. The Women’s Commission being a judicial body should have heard the sisters and the Church before passing observations that nuns were facing hardship and were not entitled to their parental property after becoming nuns, she said.

Even at that point of time the Women’s Commission had made it clear that it would stick to its demand that there should be a law to prevent girls below 18 years of age becoming nuns.

Justice Sreedevi said the commission had come to the conclusion that a law was needed to regulate enrolment of nuns after detailed studies. “If there were strict Canon laws that ensured no girl became nun before she attained 18 years of age why do applications come to the Women’s Commission,” she asked.

The women’s panel had decided to recommend for a law in this regard after it received a complaint which stated that girls below 18 years of age were being made nuns. The commission wanted some other things also to be brought under the purview of the proposed legislation. It wanted strict legal action against parents who sent their girl children to convents before they attained 18 years of age. It also wanted a rehabilitation package for women who renounce their Sanyasa life to come back to the general society.

The commission had said that such a guarantee was necessary as a nun would possess no material property of the family once she became a nun and therefore she would virtually be an orphan when she came back from the convent.

The Christian Church had registered strong protests against the proposal but the Government chose to stay away from the controversy saying it had not received any formal recommendation from the Women’s Commission.

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