| by Pearl Thevanayagam
(April 18, 2014, Bradford UK, Sri Lanka Guardian) It did not come as a surprise that a 22 year old girl committed suicide by jumping into a well after being purportedly molested by a Catholic priest a few days ago while she was attending religious education classes at an institute in Jaffna.
When Arulamma’s daughter Saroja came that day after visiting the parish priest at St Mary’s Cathedral in Jaffna to give some food my mother prepared for her to deliver she was not her normal self and she was jittery. She was a teenager, fair in complexion and quite attractive. Later it transpired the parish priest had tried to molest her. This was in the ‘70’s.
My mother who although only saw the priests as Christ’s representatives on earth, never let us visit them on our own. But in her heart she believed they were starving since there were no women to look after them. She always sent two of us and now I know on hindsight the reason why.
When I told my mother at the age of 12 that Fr Joy Chrysostom, the parish priest of St Mary’s Cathedral, had his arm round Sister Francis while she played the piano at Holy Family Convent during hymn practice when I had unexpectedly arrived early, she beat the hell out of me and made me go to confession for such blasphemy.
Fr Joy Chrisostom also sent out the masons hired to renovate St Mary’s Cathedral to her sister who was married to one of the St George’s of Atchuveli to build her two storey house. She was the only female driving round in a car in Jaffna. Fr Joy also engaged lay nuns to serve as babysitters to his sister’s children.
Many of the Catholic priests in the North hailed from Kayts which we deemed as islands and in a sense not in our class. But having taken over the Bishop’s House they ruled over the Catholic population and while denigrating the fishing folk from Kurunagar were not averse to their generous contributions which sustained the parishes of Jaffna.
Getting back to the subject in hand, while we were not allowed to go anywhere after six without our brother accompanying us, the nuns would be seen strolling on the streets at night attending to religious work in churches.
Arulamma used to pound rice for a measly 35 cents per measure which is four chundus of raw rice equivalent to four Milk Maid cans full. This was in the ‘70’s. She had 10 children and her husband who was a drunkard and a casual labourer beat her up every day. By hook or by crook Arulamma had to keep his dinner with fried fish or beef on a Sunday, vegetables and rice and he never asked if the children were fed.
Hence she went round the neighbourhood pounding rice and roasting it on the open firewood hearth getting rice flour, coconuts, murunga (drumsticks), papaw, mangoes and packed lunch to take to her kids in return where she skivvied and made sure her husband had enough after his drinking spree so that she would be left alone.
Arulamma was the town gossip who while pounding rice would tell the innermost dark secrets of neighbours of who eloped with whom and who was visiting Rosie, the spinster who entertained married men from bank clerks to school teachers who graced her house at any time of day or night.
Come hell or high water, she would go to the cinema on a Saturday with her five year old child in tow spending 50 cents to sit in the gallery of Manohara or Rani Theatre watching her silver screen stars cavorting in the flowering gardens whispering sweet nothings into the ears of their beloveds to forget her miserable life with her never-do-well husband and dream for those brief three hours she was in paradise.
To get back to the tragic death of the young girl, the Catholic Church needs to rethink celibacy among its priests and nuns. The Protestants rebelled against the Holy See (headquarters of the Catholic in Vatican presided by an elected Pope) and the subsequent revival of Calvinism and other Christian sects such as the Anglicans realised the futility and hypocrisy of celibacy and allowed its clergymen to marry and have a family life. While not rescinding the Bible and its messages, they expounded the theory that Christianity should incorporate contemporary societal requirements of the times.
Nature never intended human beings to be deprived of their natural urges including the desire to copulate. Sex is as important as the need to eat, drink and breathe. But then, as the inheritors of the highest known form of life, humans are endowed with the sixth sense which differentiate them from lesser species of animals. This evolution is what makes us special.
It is about time that we come out of the closet and admit that we cannot hide our hypocrisy with the cloak of religion be they Catholics, Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists. Since we live in a world where instant communication is at our fingertips, those who abuse their positions as religious leaders would have no place to hide. The power of the media should not be under-estimated.
(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)