WITH THE Catholic Church facing embarrassment over allegations of sexual assault involving some of its clergymen, the community’s top decision-making body in India has released a set of guidelines to prevent such acts at the workplace, including a code of conduct to be signed by employees in all institutions under its control.
The guidelines, released by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), are to be implemented in every “department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, institution, office branch or unit which is established, owned or controlled, wholly or partially financed by funds provided by the Catholic Church”.
The new measures have been listed in a 30-page document, titled “CBCI Guidelines to Deal with Sexual Harassment at Workplace”, which was issued this week.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas of Gurgaon, chairperson of the CBCI council for women, said that apart from thousands of institutions under the Church, these guidelines should be followed by firms with more than 10 employees that are run or owned by Catholics.
The Catholic Church has 171 dioceses across India. “There are hundreds of congregations, social service centres and groups as well as thousands of firms run by individuals. This would be applicable to all,” Barnabas said.
“The government has enacted a law, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. All citizens are bound by this law, and the Church takes this responsibility seriously. It is trying to implement it in all its institutions. The Church has to be in the forefront executing this, as sexual harassment violates the sacredness of the human person and is against the ethos of the Bible,” Barnabas said.
There are around 17.6 million Catholics in India, and the Church owns or controls around 20,000 educational institutions — second only to the Central government — thousands of vocational training centres, and around 5,000 healthcare centres.
The document specifies that all institutions and firms should create a “harmonious working environment free of intimidation, hostility, offence and any form of harassment and abuse of authority”, and “communicate the zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment at workplace.”
It states: “Ensure only eligible, well reputed and morally upright persons are recruited and appointed as the staff of the institutions and they should be trained, supervised and supported at their work place which should promote genuine and mature human behaviour.” It also recommends training on gender sensitivity for those in authority.
The guidelines mandate every diocese and province to set up a complaints committee, and every institute or firm with more than 10 employees to constitute an internal complaints committee.
It states that the chairperson of the internal committee should be a woman at a senior position and that the panel should have no less than two members from among the employees and one from an NGO or associations familiar with issues relating to sexual harassment. “In case of a man as a victim, a man should be appointed as the chairperson,” the document states. In case of transgenders, a woman shall be the chairperson if a member of the third gender is not available, it says.
The guidelines state that the committee should try and resolve the issues in an “informal and amicable manner whenever possible”. If the accused resigns during the investigation, the authorities will “notify the respondent and make sure to enter a note in the service record of the individual in question, disclosing that the person resigned while under investigation for allegation of sexual harassment at work place,” the document states.
In January, Pope Francis had given a call to enforce “zero tolerance” towards sexual crimes in the Church. The Pope, at the time, had written to all Bishops urging them to take strict action to contain “the sin that shamed the church” referring to the sexual abuse of children by priests.
In India, a senior priest was arrested in Kerala for the rape of a 16-year old girl, who later gave birth. Earlier, a parish priest in the state was sentenced to a double life-term for the rape of a 14-year-old.