Amen – an autobiography of a 52-year-old nun Dr Sister Jesme Raphael reveals sexual abuse and lesbianism in Catholic convents. Sister Jesme Raphael is a former nun and member of the Congregation of Mother of Carmel(CMC). She was the Principal of St Mary’s College, Thrissur, in central Kerala.
The book discusses many things but also frankly tells how sisters fall into immoral associations unable to withstand sexual deprivations, how priests exploit them and above all the avaricious ways of the Order to which she belonged. The book, in Malayalam, was released in mid-February under the title “Dedicated to Jesus, Amen.” The explosive book, ‘Amen – Oru Kanyasthreeyude Atmakatha’ (Amen Autobiography of a Nun) is selling briskly in the state with its publishers having ordered a third reprint of 2,000 copies within weeks of its release. The book is dedicated to “My Lord Jesus and His Dear Ones”.
She got her first rude shock when she was a Novitiate. ”At a retreat for novices, I noticed girls in my batch were unsettled about going to the confession chamber. I found that the priest there asked each girl if he could kiss them. I gathered courage and went in. He repeated the question. When I opposed, he quoted from the Bible which spoke of divine kisses.
Her second shock was from an ordained nun. ”I was sent to teach plus-two students in St Maria College. There, a new sister joined to teach Malayalam; she was a lesbian. When she tried to corner me, I had no way but to succumb to her wishes. She would come to my bed in the night and do lewd acts and I could not stop her.
In Bangalore for a refresher course in English, she writes, ”I was told to stay at the office of a priest respected for his strong moral side. But when I reached the station, he was waiting there and hugged me tight on arrival. Later in the day, he took me to Lalbagh and showed me cupid struck couples and tried to convince me about the need for physical love. He also narrated stories of illicit relations between priests and nun to me. Back in his room, he tried to fondle me and when I resisted, got up and asked angrily if I had seen a man. When I said no, he stripped himself, ejaculated and forced me to strip,”
Priests forced novices into relationships with them. Superiors at least in public frowned on such associations and entrusted others to spy on the suspects. There are hundreds of others in convents who face the trauma but are unable to voice dissent and come out. They shudder to come out. while nuns in the lower ranks were punished if caught for even minor offences, the Church turned a blind eye to indulgences of influential superiors. Atleast on two occassions, Church officials were thinking of moving Sister Jesme to a rehab centre.
Yet convents are reputed for enforcing iron-clad discipline. Nuns are supposed to have nipped the umbilical cord with parents and siblings. For instance, she was allowed to go home for her father’s burial at the last hour. Her superiors thought it was a luxury because many of them hadn’t even had the chance to see their dead.
”I have just opened a window, only one window, and through that window if they see dust or dirt inside the convent, at least in a corner, and if one sister cleans the corner of the convent, then my book has been rewarded,” said Sister Jesme. Not long ago, a study had claimed that 25% nuns were unhappy in convents.
”It’s a very courageous work. It’s not easy for a person who has lived 30 years in a convent to bring out the undesirable things that happened there, particularly matters like jealousy and backbiting between sisters in responsible position,” said M V Pylee, first vice chancellor of Cochin University of Science and Technology.
Now, there’s more embarrassment for the church with Sister Jesmi, once associated with the Congregation of Mother of Carmel under the Catholic Church, recounting her harrowing ecclesiastical life in the autobiography which, she says, forced her to leave the convent. The revelations could further rattle the clergy that’s already in a spot with the Abhaya murder case.
The Catholic Church in Kerala has not reacted officially to the 52-year-old nun’s book. All it has said is that the book contains only trivial matters. But Sister Jesme is undeterred as she is looking for publishers in English and other regional languages.
The book comes soon after the Central Bureau of Investigation booked two priests and a nun in the high-profile sister Abhaya murder case. The state women’s commission now says it will take up Jesme’s case very seriously.
“We are studying the matter and will take it up seriously. I cannot tell you anything more on this issue,” says State Women Commission Chairperson, Justice Sree Devi
A 19-year-old Sister Abhaya, who was murdered because she spoke out against sex in the convent. Another sister Anupama Mary committed suicide, allegedly unable to face sexual harassment by a senior nun.