Christian leaders and activists in India have made an impassioned plea to make their institutions free of sexual harassment and safer for children and women.
Catholic and Protestant leaders made the call at a panel discussion on gender justice and women’s safety in Christian institutions in New Delhi. The discussion was part of the Nov. 17 silver jubilee programs of United Christian Action (UCA), an ecumenical forum of Indian Christians.
“Sexual harassment and gender injustice are everywhere and the church institution is no exception. It has to be acknowledged first and then addressed accordingly before it is too late,” said Sister Tresa Paul, legal consultant at the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute in New Delhi.
In September 2017, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India issued a set of guidelines to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, but church institutions have not followed it up, she said.
The guidelines wanted every diocese to constitute an internal complaints committee “within six months, which did not happen,” the Holy Cross nun told the gathering of 200 invited leaders.
Catholic Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi and Protestant Bishop Waris Masih of the Church of North India’s Delhi Diocese were among the attendees. The prelates’ presence was a sign that church authorities are willing to listen to concerns of sexual abuse within Christian institutions, Sister Paul said.
UCA chairwoman Esther Kar said the program discussed sexual violations and gender justice because “it is the most pressing issue in society,” especially against the backdrop of the ongoing #MeToo movement.
The movement has gained momentum in India, with many women in the media, films and even the government claiming sexual harassment from prominent men in their workplaces.