The Archdiocese of Bombay is set to become the first in the country to adopt a clear policy on preventing and redressing sexual harassment of women in the Church.
The gender policy of the Catholic Church in India, will also include activities to ensure gender equality in health, education and social development sectors and to increase the role of women. This is a first-of-its-kind policy in the universal Catholic Church.
“We are fine-tuning the policy for the Archdiocese and will soon implement it. Meanwhile, cases of individual misdemeanour or misconduct by priests or nuns are looked into by the Women’s Commission and those found guilty are already being punished under Canonical Law,” said Fr Nigel Barrett, spokesperson for the Bombay Archdiocese.
Canon law is the body of laws and regulations made by or adopted by Christian clergy to govern Christian organisations and their members.
“A group of women and men at the national level has drafted norms to prevent, prohibit and redress the sexual harassment of women in the Church. We have submitted this to the Catholic Bishops Conference of India and Cardinal Oswald Gracias. The Bombay Archdiocese has promised to set the ball rolling by putting in place such a policy in Mumbai,” said Marcia D’Cunha, executive secretary of the Archdiocesan Women’s Commission.
There have been at least two cases in the Bombay Archdiocese where guilty priests have been ‘disrobed’ (stopped from performing duties of priesthood) and victims have been advised by the Women’s Commission to seek legal recourse.
“In cases of consensual sex, while there is little to be done legally. Canon Law, which recognises such acts by the clergy as illegal, is enforced,” Fr Nigel added.
The gender policy goes beyond norms to prevent sexual harassment and proposes practical strategies towards achieving gender equality in the family and society, covering areas such as health, education and social development through education and through activities and sessions in Catholic institutions. According to one of the authors,
Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, the group spoke to marginalised groups such as Dalits, tribals and domestic workers and all the proposals gets translated into action plans at the grassroot level.
The Archdiocesan Board of Education has introduced a programme for gender sensitisation developed by the NGO Avehi Abacus, in its middle schools. To raise awareness, the Bombay Archdiocesan Women’s Commission conducts a leadership training programme affiliated to the Women’s Resource Centre of Sophia College.
Gender sensitisation is one of the goals of the policy so the Commission even has a programme for seminarians, ones studying to become priests. The policy assumes significance at a time when only three per cent of top leadership roles in the secretariats, congregations and pontifical councils of the Catholic church are held by women and most of the decision-making is linked with ordination.
“The gender policy conceived in 2010 was remarkable as it was drafted by women. Previously all decision-making was linked with ordination and women cannot be ordained,” said Gajiwala.