Finally Kerala Catholic Church comes out with Guidelines for Bishops

 In Christianity

Finally, Kerala Catholic Church comes out with Guidelines for Bishops

The Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church last month decided to set up internal committees at the diocesan level to create a “safe environment” for all, including children and vulnerable adults.

A body of catholic bishops in Kerala has come out with guidelines to protect minors and vulnerable adults in church-run institutions from any form of sexual exploitation or abuse and proposing action against anyone committing such offences. The Catholic Church in India has been hit by various scandals involving priests in the recent past.

In a 16-page document for priests and other church officials, the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council emphasised that there should be zero tolerance towards sexual assault or harassment, asserting that such incidents occurring in its institutions should be reported to the church as well as the civil authorities.

The document titled “KCBC Guidelines for Safe Environment Programme for Church Personnel connected with institutions where minors or vulnerable adults are given particular care” was issued in June 2018, but has come into public domain only now.

Kerala was rocked by the rape charges levelled by a nun against bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar diocese last year leading to his arrest in September. The nun had accused the 54-year old clergyman of repeatedly raping and having unnatural sex with her between 2014 and 2016.

A KCBC spokesperson Tuesday said the guidelines were issued in June 2018 and were “in the stage of implementation”. The document termed as “heinous crimes and grave sins” the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults and proposed necessary ecclesiastical disciplinary action against the offenders.

“Our Catholic presbyteries, churches, educational institutions, religious institutions, houses of special care and Catholic organisations should be places where all feel comfortable,” it said.

The purpose of the guidelines was also to provide a safe and secure environment for minors and vulnerable adults to protect them from any form of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and to respond to victims of sexual offences with care and compassion, the KCBC said.

It also seeks to address the possibility of false accusations against the clergy, employees and volunteers. According to the guidelines, Church officials shall refrain from viewing and exhibiting any sexually explicit or morally in-appropriate material in the presence of minors and vulnerable adults.

They shall not indulge in or encourage sexually offensive humour and conversation in the presence of minors and vulnerable adults, the document said.

Adults should ensure that there was no inappropriate physical contact with minors and no minor shall reside in any church rectory or other living quarters of priests, unless the minor is accompanied by parent or an adult entrusted by the parent, it said.

“Church personnel are bound to report cases of sexual offences to the authorities concerned and also cooperate with the investigation by civil authorities,” the guidelines said. The new policy was evolved on the basis of directives issued by the Vatican and the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.

Bishop Mulakkal, a senior member of the Roman Catholic clergy in India, was arrested amid mounting public outrage over allegations of repeatedly raping and sexually assaulting the nun.

The guidelines said Church personnel were to create a safe environment for young people, specifically mentioning:

– refraining from viewing and exhibiting any sexually explicit or morally inappropriate material in the presence of minors and vulnerable adults,

– not indulging in or encouraging sexually offensive humor and conversation in the presence of minors and vulnerable adults,

– not engaging in physical, mental, psychological, verbal, or written harassment of staff, volunteers, or parishioners, nor tolerating the same,

– maintaining “clear boundaries” in relationships with minors and vulnerable adults.

The definition of harassment included physical or mental abuse; unwelcome sexual advances or touching, sexual comments or sexual jokes; and requesting sexual favors as a condition of employment; promotion; or any other benefit.

The bishops warned against “excessive familiarity” between adults and minors; adults relating to minors “as if they are peers and friends”; and giving undo attention to a particular minor or group of minors. They also urged Church personnel to exercise a “high degree of caution” when it comes to physical contact with minors, saying it should be “strictly limited” and “entirely non-sexual and incapable of being misconstrued by the minor or others.”

The guidelines also state that no minor should live in the residence of a priest, unless the child’s parents or guardians are also present, nor should they be alone in a clerical residence with a priest.

The document also forbids corporal punishment, advises against overnight trips with minors, and forbids the photographing of young people naked or getting dressed or undressed.

The bishops also have a section on what assistance should be given victims.

– great care should be given to protecting the reputation of the victim,

– the victim is to be given counseling at the Church’s expense,

– a delegate of the bishop or religious superior should be assigned to keep in contact with the victim and the victim’s family.

The guidelines also tell Church officials to fully cooperate with a civil or criminal investigation by the state authorities. The bishops of Kerala published the sex abuse guidelines in the middle of a scandal involving a Kerala-born bishop accused of raping a nun.

A nun belonging to the Syro-Malabar Church accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar in India’s Punjab state of sexually assaulting her several times at her order’s convent in Kerala. Mulakkal is currently out on bail as the investigation continues.

However, Church authorities say the timing of the release of the guidelines has nothing to do with the Mulakkal case. “We had already started the work on this before it happened. The guidelines have been sent to respective bishops and dioceses. All the priests are well aware of it,” Father Jolly Vadakken told India Matters. “The pope has addressed this issue several times. This is part of the reformation policy of the Church,” the priest said.

The presidents of the world’s national episcopal conferences will be in Rome Feb. 21-24 for a Vatican clerical sexual abuse summit. The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Mumbai Cardinal Oswald Gracias, is a member of the four-person organizing committee.

 

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