KOCHI: Following the ignominy that has rocked the foundations of the Syro-Malabar Church, it is reasonable to assume it could deter women from opting for religious life. Novelist and social activist Sarah Joseph said, despite recent developments, the decline was foreseen and gradual.
“People have realised the Church is miles away from Christ and his teachings. The allegations about the clergy not upholding moral values trigger the erosion of faith. This in itself reduces the number of people who believe in the Church thereby leading to a decrease in women and men wanting to join religious institutions,” she said. Nonetheless, reasons such as the expansion of career opportunities and shrinking families continue to be at the forefront along with the rise of social media.
Regardless of the congregation, a nun is expected to take three vows - chastity, poverty and obedience - that result in her complete union to the Church. Nuns observe the vow of obedience whic h is the hardest to follow, ironically. “We are at the mercy of our superiors. The vow of obedience demands we obey God’s will, but the superior’s will contradicts the former. And we cannot question it because we’ve taken the vow. The vow is the tool that has a dual purpose to punish,” said Jesme, a former nun. She also said girls are naive when they join the convent and do not imbibe the real repercussions of the three vows.
The vow of poverty plays an enormous role in the declining number. “Over time, people have realised the developmental activities of the church are mostly money-based and the clergy do not follow the vow of poverty in its spirit,” said Sarah. “Also, when the church puts an embargo on the nuns from the conventional way of convent life, they will find other ways to serve Jesus and choose newer ways of spiritual activism,” she said.
A nun who wishes to remain anonymous said it was natural to feel abandoned at a certain point. “Regardless of the path we choose, we’re bound to be exhausted because of the restrictions imposed. That, however, is a momentary feeling. We have joined for a purpose. The ones who have been truly called by God will sustain, the others leave and choose lives that could be better for them,” she said.
Joining the religious life is clearly not for the faint-hearted, said Fr Mathew Chandrankunnel, spokesperson for the Syro-Malabar Church. “It is natural for the public to assume the end is near considering the recent controversies. But the church is confident the Christian vocational calling is the plan of God and not man’s,” he said.