Thiruvananathapuram - Already reeling under several controversies, the Kerala Catholic Church is facing fresh embarrassment from a tell-all autobiography written by a nun who recently quit the Order alleging harassment from superiors.
'Amen - an autobiography of a nun', released last week, is written by Dr Sister Jesme, 52, who was the Principal of St Mary's College, Thrissur, till last August when she quit the Congregation of Mother Carmelite (CMC).
"Dedicated to Jesus", Amen is explicit in its details of the sexual repression and harassment behind the Church walls as well as the draconian rules and "greed" of the Order. Jesme claims that since the book was released, she has been getting calls pledging solidarity.
"Nuns mingle with the whole spectrum of the community around them. They teach students, comfort the aged and nurse the sick; still the brides of the Church remain an enigma. My work would throw light on the misunderstood convent life, engulfed in darkness," says Jesme.
Apart from the Abhaya murder in which a nun and priests are accused, the Kerala Church was recently in the news for a priest "adopting" a 26-year-old woman.
Jesme's autobiography includes a poignant version by her of how the convent authorities tried to twice prove that she had mental problems and get her admitted into a rehab centre after she reportedly spoke out against the malpractices within the Order.
Starting with her first days in the Church, 30 years ago, she talks of priets forcing novices to have relations with them and the closet homosexuality within nun ranks, "which the Church reckons as the dirtiest thing possible". "If nuns developed unusual interest in each other, authorities would deploy other inmates to watch them," she writes.
The book says Jesme herself was forced into such a relationship by a fellow nun, and that her complaints to a senior nun were ignored. According to her, the other nun said she preferred such a relationship as it ruled out pregnancy. There were others who had affairs with priests, she writes.
Another passage in Amen deals with a chance encounter Jesme had with a priest in Bangalore while on her way to Dharwar to attend a UGC refresher course in English. "My plan was to stay at the waiting room at the Bangalore railway station. But sisters in the convent gave me the address of a pious, decent priest. When I reached Bangalore, the priest was waiting to receive me. He embraced me and took me to his presbytery. After breakfast, he took me to Lalbagh (Botanical Garden) and showed me several pairs cuddling behind trees. He also gave a sermon on the necessity of physical love and described the illicit affairs certain bishops and priests had."
Later, when they were in his room, she writes, he stripped and made her do the same.
Jesme claims that while nuns in the lower ranks were punished if caught for even minor offences, the Church turned a blind eye to those superior or with influence for major transgressions.
Talking about the Church's draconian rules, Jesme writes in the book that she was not allowed to go home when her father died, or to even pray some extra hours for his soul. "I was able to see my father barely 15 minutes before the funeral. The alibi of the superiors was that the then senior sisters were not even lucky enough to see the bodies of their parents."
During her time in the Church, Jesme often ran into problems with superiors. She was called "cine nun" after she provided office facility for a film festival at St Mary's College, leading to the first campus film from the college, as well as when she shared dais with a sex worker for the release of a book on the life of a prostitute.
Since quitting CMC, Jesme has been staying alone in a flat in Kozhikode. She told The Indian Express she was still living as a "nun". "I go for Church mass daily and have no plans to get married."