Monday, October 25, 2010
Serving God, Mammon, and Sex
Shibu Kalamparambil, a former priest, belonging to the Vincentian congregation, has written a book detailing homosexuality in seminaries and rampant sexual escapades with cash-strapped women, widows, and nuns. Financial contributions made by parishioners to help the poor usually end up in the pockets of the priests
By Shevlin Sebastian
It was midnight. The Catholic priest, Fr. Jose George, could not sleep because there was no fan in the room. Jose knocked on Anna Jacob’s door. When she opened it, he told her he could not sleep. She invited him inside, because there was a fan in her room.
Jose met Anna while conducting a retreat at Kottayam. “Why don't you come home, have dinner, and stay for the night?” Anna said. She lived with her mother-in-law, while her husband worked in Dubai. Jose accepted.
When Jose entered the bedroom, it was seen by Anna’s mother-in-law. “She prayed till morning,” says Fr. K.P. Shibu Kalamparambil. “She cannot reveal this incident to her son, because that will destroy the marriage. Then the society will ask questions about why the marriage came to an end. That would affect the social standing of the family.” So she kept quiet.
But the secret came out when, feeling disturbed, she told Shibu at the confessional. (On every Sunday Catholics can confess their sins to the priest before Mass. The priest and the penitent speak to each other through a grid or lattice).
The advantage of priests is that when they go to the house of a woman, society does not look askance. “He has the social sanction,” says Shibu. “And priests take advantage of that.”
Shibu was a priest with the Vincentian congregation till March. Like Sr Jesme, Shibu has quit the priesthood and written a 160 page book: ‘Here is the heart of a priest’, in which he talks about his numerous experiences during his 24 years in the congregation. The most stunning revelations are the incidents of sexual misconduct.
“If a woman has financial problems and is desperate, she will approach the priest,” says Shibu. “He will help her, but will ask for sex in exchange. She will give in, because she has no option.” Similarly, priests take advantage of widows, troubled women, and nuns.
“Most nuns are sexually frustrated,” says Shibu. “To lead a celibate life is unnatural.” Initially, they will try to leave. But the older nuns will persuade them that there is no need to take this extreme step because things will get better in the future. “Since the elder nuns are trapped, they want to ensure that others also remain stuck like them,” says Shibu. “Nobody is allowed to escape.”
So, the young nuns look for safe ways to have sex. “It is either through priests, servants, drivers, or the milkman,” says Shibu. “There have been cases when the nuns have been caught red-handed, but the matter is quickly hushed up. And the nun is transferred immediately.”
In the priestly life, sexual misconduct starts early. “Homosexuality is rampant in the seminaries,” says Shibu. Since it is a dormitory system, it is easy for a boy with sexual desires to manipulate or exploit another boy. Because the students lead an isolated life, it is only through homosexuality that they can get a sexual release. “They have no other forms of entertainment, like watching films,” he says. “Neither do they have any contact with the opposite sex.”
Shibu, who was a prefect in a seminary, has caught students in the act many times. “They are immediately sent off,” he says. “Sometimes, a few boys escape being caught and carry on their activities long after they have become priests.”
Apart from sex, money is the big attraction. “Nobody knows how much donation a priest receives in the name of helping the poor,” says Shibu. “The priest also gets cash gifts from parishioners after he blesses a new car or a home. The money he gets varies from Rs 500 to Rs 1 lakh.”
He remembers the case of a businessman who gave Rs 1 lakh to a priest, because he conducted the baptism ceremony of his son. “The priest has kept the money, instead of giving it to the congregation,” says Shibu. Usually, they buy electronic goods, or a car, insurance policies, or do investments in shares and real estate.
“Priests are so busy making money, that being a priest has become a secondary role,” he says. “But I heard allegations that the same thing is happening among the pujaris and the maulvis. I feel disheartened.”
But there were other reasons why Fr. Shibu decided to quit. He had a MA in Sociology from the University of Pune, and an M. Ed from Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, but was not given jobs commensurate to his qualifications. “The authorities wanted loyalists,” he says. “They will not promote the meritorious person, because they are afraid their positions could get shaky.”
So he had to face the humiliation of seeing juniors being appointed as principals, while he was given a job as a teacher.
The priests in his congregation are aware of what is happening, but are afraid to speak out. “I thought to myself, ‘Why should I remain silent?’” he says. “I joined the priesthood because I wanted to serve God and humanity. But I was unable to do so. If I wanted I could have made a lot of money and led a comfortable life. But I know that these compromises will prick my conscience. So I thought it was better to quit.”
But Shibu also admits that there are blessings in the priestly life. “The vocation does give peace of mind, provided one is working in a spiritual environment,” he says. “Then a person is inspired to work for the betterment of society. Priests in many congregations lead dedicated lives, but there is a certain section, very large in number, which is spoiling the name of the priesthood.”
Asked whether celibacy should be abolished, he nods. “In order to serve God, there is no need to remain unmarried,” he says. “The disciples of Jesus Christ, except John, were married. The first Pope was married and had three children. My suggestion is that the Pope and the priests should marry. Celibacy forces priests to succumb to temptations.”
He said that the Christians sects like the Mar Thomites and the Jacobites allow priests to marry. “They are respected by society,” he says. “So why cannot the Catholic church do the same thing?”
But this insistence on celibacy by the Catholic church could be based on economic considerations. “If there is a married priest, the church would need to give more salary and accommodation,” says Shibu. “The senior clergy will not have the money to live the pompous lifestyles they have now.”
Meanwhile, Fr. Paul Puthuva, one of the Provincial Superiors of the Vincentian Congregation, says, “The book is full of baseless allegations. Any person who leaves the congregation can level all sorts of unfounded charges. So, we prefer not to respond to what Shibu has said or written.”
In person, Shibu comes across as straight-forward and intense, but under mental strain. Max Philips, a friend, says that he is under a lot of pressure from the Vincentian community as well as his own family, who are die-hard Catholics. They are angry with him for writing the book and talking to the media. So Shibu has gone away.
He is now working as a teacher of social science in an Indian school at Doha, Qatar. Shibu himself admits that the road ahead is tough. “But I have courage, determination, and the will to succeed,” he says.
His future plans include marriage and the setting up of a short-stay home for priests who want to leave the priesthood. “Initially, when they leave, they are not accepted by the family or society,” says Shibu. “So they go through a tough time. I will provide them with a room, with an attached bath, as well as a kitchen. A job will also be arranged.”
Asked whether Sr. Jesme served as an inspiration, Shibu says, “Yes, her example was an impetus to reveal what is going on. What Jesme has said is the truth, but it has not been accepted by the church. But there is one thing I can say with certainty: truth cannot be concealed forever. One day it will come out.”
(Some names have been changed)
(The New Indian Express, Chennai)