Those who profess to be messengers of God’s mercy have to first live it among themselves
I have a close relationship with the Church in India, across denominations, regions, languages, ethnicities. Although I came back to the Church just about three decades ago, I have been blessed with unprecedented access to all echelons of the Christian community in the country, from the four Cardinals, to bishops – Catholic and protestant, diocesan clergy and men/women religious.
I have met them in their homes, in confidence, and in the public arena, travelled with them in deep forests and in the midst of violence, seen them in their glory on their academic and medical institutions, and admired their courage in the face of aggression and temptation. It is therefore not difficult for me to stand for them, and write and speak for them, when they are the victims of calumny and hostility, manufactured allegations and malicious barbs.
If this makes me aware of their humanity and spirituality, it also makes me privy to their human nature, their anxieties, fears, weaknesses and often enough, their struggles with personal devils that seek to tempt them, or possess them. I am sure the Superiors and heads of congregations and dioceses are equally aware of this. But I am not sure how much men and women in the Church are reaching out to their spiritual siblings in distress or in need of a receptive and generous ear. The formal Confessional does not suffice.
I am therefore deeply distre-
ssed at a very personal, core level when I hear of a Woman Religious, committing suicide, or once in a while, a clergyman or seminarian. I brush aside insinuations of criminality, or allegations of murder. Police and internal enquiries are the instruments of justice in such cases, and murderers eventually are traced more often than not. I will therefore not talk of the sordid affairs in the archdiocese of Bangalore, beset with linguistic and ethnic rifts. There can be no defence, and no air-brushing of criminality, even though one priest’s death, and the arrest of several of his brother-clergy in the crime, is a strong reason for a deep investigation by Rome into what is happening in South India. The continuance of Caste in many other dioceses deserves a similar forensic enquiry.
But a suicide is a very different matter, in the secular everyday world, or in cloisters, convents and clergy homes. An old friend once said: “In a suicide, all of us are guilty.” India has perhaps over 125,000 women religious, and a quarter that of male clergy. The non-Catholic church in the country may perhaps have more than 200,000 clergy of various levels of theological education, but as deep a commitment.
The vocation regions, and reasons, have changed over the decades, shifting from the west coast, across central India, to the north eastern districts of the country.
Educational standards have risen sharply. And for those interested in social action, working in India’s developing society beset with economic, caste and gender inequity offers a tremendous and very satisfying challenge.
But, as in civil society across religions and economic strata, there are recesses of the mind, and the soul, which remain in ferment, sometimes in a state of torture. While in a family, a teenager or even an adult with signs of distress will be taken to a hospital and assessed by a psychologist or a psychiatrist, such care is possibly not available to those in religious orders.
There is also, perhaps, a loosening of the bonds that once knit religious communities together, a natural process which aggravates with the passage of time, and the advancing of age and the consequent accumulation of tensions of many kinds; or external triggers.
Whatever be the reasons, it is time for those in charge, the Superiors and the Superiors General, to singly and collectively start a process of deep examination and assessment, taking help from experts in the secular world, to assess and address this issue.
The torsions and pressures on the mind remain unseen, and are more difficult to address that issues of moral turpitude which grab the headlines, or the impact of persecution which unfortunately is such a reality too in India.
Human Rights Activist, Member
of National Integration Council