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In the Lord’s Name

Book Review
Anyone who is familiar with the Catholic Church will agree that a Reformation is long overdue in it. Too many things are going wrong in it. It is not anything like what Jesus would approve of. The book, Karthavinte Namathil (In the Lord’s Name), is written by a Catholic nun who is facing defrocking because she has questioned too many of the Church’s sins of commission and omission.
The author’s chief complaint is that the nuns are dominated by the priests. Some of them (too many of them, if this book is to be believed) are sexually exploited by the priests too. A nun’s life turns out to be service of the priests in various ways instead of service of the Lord and His people. The author argues for liberation of the nuns from the clutches of priests. She goes a step ahead and demands more personal liberty for the nuns.
I am quite familiar with a lot of priests and nuns and the religious life itself. I was part of the religious system for ten years. In my experience and observation sexual deviations are exceptions rather than rules in the system. I agree that the exceptions seem to be becoming too frequent to be exceptions anymore. Even if they are exceptions, they are serious aberrations and the Church ought to take effective actions against the perpetrators of such offences.
More often than not, the Church goes out of the way to protect the offenders and condemn the victims. For the Church, its public image seems to matter more than the sanctity of the institution. The author does have a very valid point here.
But when it comes to her views on personal liberty, we enter a slippery ground. Ascetic life has many restrictions. Otherwise it wouldn’t be asceticism. All the Catholic priests and nuns are pledged to chastity and obedience. Most of them also take the vow of poverty. Quite many personal desires have to be sacrificed if one wishes to be a priest or a nun.
Sister Lucy, the author, seems to bat for more personal liberty than the system can permit. She published her writings against her superior’s orders. She attended public functions and gave interviews to the media, again disregarding the orders of her congregation. She bought a car, yet another instance of disobedience as well as breach of the vow of poverty.
Of course, the nun has certain valid reasons to offer in her defence. A lot of priests and nuns do all these things. She has been taken to task because her actions hurt the Church, rather the priests, unlike those of her counterparts. Many theologians, brilliant ones too, like Hans Kung, went against the Church’s official teachings occasionally. The Church didn’t forgive them at all. The Church doesn’t forgive easily offences against its well-guarded creeds and dogmas.
I agree with Sister Lucy that the Church should undergo what it calls aggiornamento, making itself more relevant to the times. Many rules and practices which were formulated centuries ago cannot be valid in today’s world. The world has changed so much in the last few decades that the Church’s attitudes towards a nun owning a car, for instance, need be re-examined. Yet if a nun chooses to disregard too many rules, however irrelevant they may be, she doesn’t deserve to be in the system.
Sister Lucy says that she wants to reform the system staying inside. That’s an impossible mission especially when the system is as humungous as the Catholic Church. Otherwise the reformer should possess the vision of a Francis of Assisi or a Clare of Assisi. Sister Lucy belongs to a congregation founded in the names of these two saints. But she lacks their spirit.
Sister Lucy emerges in the book as a very ordinary person who wants to have the best of both the worlds: the religious life and the secular one. She longs to enjoy the security of the convent without having to give up too many comforts of the outside world. This is the reason why her autobiography shies away from any depth. She has little to offer to the reader except some superficial criticism of the Church (though I will never deny that the criticism is valid and deserves much attention) and a passionate defence of herself.
Though it’s an autobiography, the book is written by M K Ramadas, a journalist. The writing is good and makes for interesting reading. I read it in one go, just a few hours. The last 59 pages of the 229-page book constitute an appendix which presents all the letters that changed hands between the author and her superiors. They are of little use to a lay reader.
I gave 3 stars to this book in my Amazon review. I think I have made the reasons clear enough. My autobiography, Autumn Shadows, is available at Amazon as an e-book. The print version will be available soon. A few chapters of the book are about my tryst with the Catholic religious life.


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