Suicide attempt by orphanage inmates another headache for Church

via Pioneer News Service | Kollam published on August 25, 2008

The suicide attempt by two girls of the Nithya Sahaya Matha Balika Mandiram (orphanage for girls) associated with a convent in Kottiyam in Kollam has put the Catholic Church diocese in a tight spot even before the storm created by the recent suicide of a nun is yet to settle. The Balika Mandiram is a unit of the same Holy Cross order in which Sr Anupa (22), the nun who committed suicide on August 11 at the St Mary’s Convent, Port, Kollam.

Kottiyam police have registered a case against apprentice priest Benedict of the Thiruvananthapuram diocese on the basis of the complaints by girls who attempted to commit suicide on Saturday night. The police would question him on the basis of testimony of these two girls and another who had received counselling from Benedict.

The girls told the police that Benedict had given counselling for an hour to the three girls on Saturday and during this he had accused them of having a time of bad conduct. The girls said he had insisted that they should admit to having had such a conduct as he had come to know this through a revelation. The girls also said that Benedict had talked in a humiliating tone to them.

The girls, who after consuming poison and had been admitted to the hospital ICU run by the church on Saturday, were discharged in the afternoon. They said that they were restless after Benedict made this statement and so they had consumed poison out of humiliation.

Justice D Sreedevi, chairperson of the Kerala State Women’s Commission, had tried to see the girls but was not allowed. She had then met the third girl and learnt that the apprentice priest had given them counselling by putting his hand on their foreheads. The girl had told her that he had only said that he just asked them to live as good girls.

“I could not believe that,” Sreedevi said. “That the two girls had tried to commit suicide just because somebody gave them counselling cannot be believed. Also, this was no counselling if what the girl said was true,” she said. The convent authorities said the apprentice priest had done nothing wrong to the girls. The mother superior of the convent that looked after the Balika Sadanam said they were only helping girls from collapsed families. Both the girls were from very poor backgrounds.

The police have charged a case for provoking the girls to commit suicide against the apprentice priest. The convent authorities said there had been no previous complaints against Benedict from anywhere.

They said the girls had tried to commit suicide perhaps due to their immature minds.The police said they were viewing the matter with utmost seriousness. There would be a thorough interrogation on Benedict, they said. Such incidents could not be tolerated, the police added.

Meanwhile, demands have come up from several quarters for a thorough probe into the goings on in convents under the Kollam diocese in the light of the two incidents. It is alleged that the church and convent authorities were trying to hide something in the case of the suicide attempt of the two girls.

The fact that the Women’s Commission chairperson could not meet the girls proved this, it is said. There are also complaints that the Kottiyam police was trying to help the diocese.

The Kollam diocese of the Catholic Church was already in a tight spot after the suicide of Sr Anupa, a nun who had been ordained just three months ago, due to alleged harassments and torture, including lesbian sexual abuse by the mother superior of the convent where she was an internee. Anupa was a nun of the Vimala Hridaya Franciscan Sisters coming under the Holy Cross congregation. The Balika Sadanam also belonged to the same order.

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