Valson Thampu

Two options are open to humankind regarding the logic of life. First, to understand the meaning of events and to deal with the causes not less than the effects. Or, in the medical parlance: to treat the disease, even as the symptoms are being managed. The second option is to focus obstinately and exclusively on symptoms and refuse to understand causes. This is the acquired second nature of the modern man in life situations. As a result, patterns of preventable aberrations repeat themselves.

Sex-related crimes are evidently and alarmingly increasing. They are spinning out of control. The demons of sex chase even ordained ones. In wilful naiveté we imagine that by making punishment more draconian, and increasing deterrence-quotient, we shall eradicate this epidemic. But it continues to swell. Ironically, increase in deterrence aggravates the peril for victims of sex-crimes by increasing the need to destroy evidence. The foremost evidence are the victim and the witnesses, especially those among the latter who are disinclined to turn hostile. So, they are sought to be eliminated, as is reported to be the case in the Unnao rape episode. The victim in the more recent rape-event, a law student, involving a former BJP law-maker, Chinmayanand, had to flee from UP, being wiser for what happened to the victim in the Unnao tragedy.

Politicians make heroic, ear-filling statements about controlling sex-related crimes and making the society, streets and institutions safer for women. Imperious demands to hang offenders are aired. Sanctimonious intensions to root out this evil are stated every now and then. But the situation on the ground gets worse day by day. Self-styled morality-mongers denounce sex predators, till they themselves are caught in the same quagmire. No one wonders why human vulnerability is increasing even as our species is presumably progressing at an impressive pace and societies are becoming better organized and more sophisticated, if not more cultured.

There is a truth that a thousand events urge to us to heed. That is a spiritual truth; the reason why it goes unheeded. The spiritual truth is this: modern man suffers from an inner rupture and imbalance. Something has snapped within him; he knows not what. As a rule, inner realities are inaccessible to material means of knowing, which has a genius only for horizontal knowledge, not depth-insights. The blindness immanent in materialism stems from a rupture: the rupture between the inner life and the external world, between depth and surface. Stability is a function of depth, not of surface. The only union that endures is the union that takes place in personal depths.

In the religious context, the rape of a subordinate -a person under one’s ecclesiastic authority- must be deemed horribly abhorrent. Only the wilfully wicked will interpret the absence of open rebellion on the part of hapless victims as complicity. Religious authority is unlike worldly authority. It carries the weight, for such victims, both of institutional coercion and of communitarian inhibition. Victims in this category endure what they cannot help, and seek early escape from zones of self-desecration, which efforts are liable to be thwarted. Such strategies of self-defence, which is more than self-defence as the world knows it, if persisted with, tend to be mis-represented as rebellious insubordination. This coerces, as Pope Francis said, most of the victims to endure their desecration in silent agony. As Pliny, the Roman historian wrote about the poor of his day, “The rich do what they wish, and the poor endure what they must.”

Rape and sexual exploitations of every kind belong to the category of “sin against the Holy Spirit” -the sin not to be forgiven. What is the Holy Spirit? It is the Spirit of union: union with Jesus Christ. The church becomes a spiritual thing only by being the Bride of Jesus Christ. This is no physical union, but a spiritual and internal one. Internal states and realities are not pious delusions. They express themselves, if authentic, as ‘fruits’. Hence the Pauline spotlight on the fruit of the Spirit. You shall know a tree, Jesus said, by its fruits. So, if a bishop, a priest, a lay man is really part of the church, or if he is a trespasser in camouflage, can be known from the ‘fruits’ he yields. The tragedy of the Christian community is that it overlooks fruits and persists in believing that figs too can produce thorns and thistles. Jesus’ teaching against judgmentalism is used as an escape route from the duty to form any judgement at all. This mindset of moral and spiritual deadness is no better than rape itself. We violate the Spirit within us by entertaining it.

A nun is united inviolably to Jesus Christ. This relationship is tantamount to a supra-physical wedding. The dictum, “what God has united, no man shall put asunder’ applies to this relationship in an absolute sense. To target such a covenanted person, taking advantage of her physical and institutional defencelessness, if such a horrendous and sacrilegious thing ever happens, is the Absolute Unthinkable, or the ‘abomination in the holy place’ that the book of Revelation refers to. Such a person is comparable to the beast, in Revelation, slouching towards Bethlehem.

It is wrong, I believe, on the part of any Christian body, including the church, to keep individuals who are unable or disinclined to attain and maintain a state of true celibacy in its spiritual sense under the yoke of canon law or tradition. Freedom is God’s gift to human beings. Jesus gave to Judas the freedom even to betray the Master. That is the importance God attaches to human freedom. Freedom is inseparable from choice and is meaningful only because of it. Truth is higher than all institutional interests and the King of Truth cannot be served with untruth.

It is high time the Christian community did serious soul-searching. The community shouldn’t need to be polarized into defenders and agitators. We are called to be neither. We are witnesses; witness to the Kingdom that is already come upon us. Spiritual truth can be witnessed only by living it. As individuals and churches, we squander our witness when we compromise the truth even, presumably, in the interests of the church.

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