Sacramental blackmail, clergy sexual abuse, clericalism and property disputes are among challenges facing Catholic women religious in India, an international webinar was told.
The July 10 meeting organized by Voices of Faith, a Rome-based international network, discussed the findings of a Conference of Religious India survey conducted among the leaders of the women religious in the country.
Around 370 nuns, priests and laypeople from many English-speaking countries, Germany and Italy attended the two-hour program.
The survey was commissioned in 2018 by the women’s section of the Conference of Religious India, the national association of religious major superiors in the country, after media reports indicated widespread exploitation of nuns in the Catholic Church.
A four-member team conducted the study in 2019-20 and published the findings as a book in June this year.
“It is a landmark document,” Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, a laywoman theologian who coordinated the webinar, said of the book. “For the first time, we have hard data that cannot be discounted. Women religious from across India have courageously called out the exploitation they experience in the church.”
The book lists these problems faced by the Indian nuns: low wages, disputes over property, harassment from priests, refusal of sacramental celebrations, and verbal abuse in person and from the pulpit.
The issues discussed in the book were earlier discounted, Gajiwala says, lest they invite “the wrath of powerful priests and bishops,” adding the concerns “are finally out in the open.”
The India conferences of both bishops and religious have not responded to the survey or its findings.
The 86-page book titled It’s High Time: Women Religious Speak Up on Gender Justice in the Indian Church, was written by a three-member team led by Sr. Hazel D’Lima, former superior general of the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary.