Catholic priests and nuns in Kerala have become pro-active about the ‘deliberate attempts’ to malign their image, but what’s beneath the surface?
Taking serious note of the rising trend to defame the Church in mainstream media and social media platforms, priests and nuns have stopped playing the role of passive victims.
Catholic officials in Kerala have registered more than 160 police complaints across the state, according to Father Michael Pulickal, secretary of Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council’s ‘commission for social harmony and vigilance’.
Fed up with the stream of lies, half-truths and misleading facts, “Our priests and nuns have lodged more than 160 police complaints across the state against certain online, mainstream and social media platforms for portraying Catholic priests and nuns in a poor light,” Father Pulickal told an international Catholic news site.
In some instances, the Kerala police were hostile and refused to register their complaints, but the bishops’ council and other church bodies would “not succumb to pressure” and continue their campaign “for legal action until we get justice.” he said.
While the usual practice has been to ignore adverse posts on the media, the last straw was probably pictures of women dressed in religious habits of Catholic nuns posted by photographer Yaami on social media.
Though Yaami’s photographs are widely appreciated in liberal and feminist photographic circles, a section of Kerala Christians found them ‘objectionable’.
The pictures went viral and the woman photographer told Asianet, a local news portal: “Two young women in nuns’ clothes hug warmly, walk together hand in hand, and laugh together. The issue is how people look at these photographs.”
Church officials complained that the photos portrayed Catholic nuns as lesbians.
“Women do not cease to be women just because they live inside a nunnery”, Yaami countered while adding that she did not mean to denigrate Catholic religion or its systems.
“People looked at their clothes [habit], but I looked at the fun side of it,” she said while asserting her right to shoot as per her creative urges.
Interestingly, Yaami received hate mail from the Hindu right wing brigade not long ago for showing the nuns fully clothed!
The action by several Catholic organisations to file cases against Yaami is also being seen as disguised homophobia and as ganging up to attack a soft target.
“The church doesn’t really have much of a case on this one. The photos are tasteful. There is no obscenity as per the provisions of the law. It’s just some moral policing by conservative Malayali folks and a show of clericalism,” says Jose Thomas, an amateur Catholic photographer, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, and it is sad to see the way conservatives in Kerala are trying to divert attention rather than address what’s really happening in their own convents.
“Nuns are committing suicide and jumping down wells, a Bishop is accused by a nun of rape, and the case gets thrown out of a lower court on flimsy grounds, priests are being accused of sexual abuse of minors, and these people are going after soft targets,” says Ann Murray, an undergraduate student from Bombay archdiocese.
Church officials said the photographs were not an isolated case but ‘part of a trend’ that came in the wake of the case of a nun claiming she was raped by Bishop Franco Mulakkal that made national headlines.
YouTuber Jolly Adimathra posted a video calling for an end to the practice of Catholic religious life for women and closing down the nunneries, drawing parallels with the ancient practice of the Devadasis) in India.
The practice was abolished as the Devadasis were sexually exploited by the rich and the powerful linked with the temples. Similarly, claimed Adimathra in the video, nunneries were created to satiate the sexual urges of the male-dominated Catholic hierarchy.
“We cannot tolerate this anymore. We want the government to act against those tarnishing our image as priests and nuns,” Father Pulickal said.
Some have come up with conspiracy theories. “The negative portrayal of nuns and priests is a conspiracy to keep the younger generation of Catholics away from religious life,” said a nun belonging to Voice of Nuns, a group of religious who interacts with members of the public through social media on issues that plague them.
“Despite the humiliations and hatred, we continue to take care of the friends and relatives of those attacking us. It is really painful to be called prostitutes or slaves,” a nun from the Daughters of St. Joseph told UCA News.