Sex and The Church

Published: September 17, 2011

On September 11, the Synod of the Marthoma Church, a prominent Kerala-based non-Catholic denomination, replaced Euyakim Mar Coorilos as the bishop of its Kunnamkulam-Malabar diocese. In July, Coorilos had become the first Christian bishop to be sued in India for allegedly committing sodomy. The petition was filed by Sam Kutty, 38, a former diocese employee before a judicial magistrate in Pathanamthitta, accusing the bishop of sexually abusing him in 2009 inside a retreat centre run by the diocese. The judicial magistrate has directed the local police to investigate the complaint.

For the Christian church and community at large, which consider even consensual homosexuality a cardinal sin and perversion, the news was blasphemous. The Coorilos incident is the latest in a spate of sex crimes that has surfaced recently involving priests and nuns in Kerala. In 2008, the Pope suspended Bishop John Thattunkal of the Latin Catholic Diocese of Kochi on charges of adopting a 26-year-old woman. That very year, the church dismissed a 45-year-old nun after an MMS clip of her indulging in sex was widely circulated. In 2009, Sister Jesme, a Catholic nun, listed her sexual encounters in a tell-all autobiography. Later that year, CBI arrested two priests and a nun in connection with the murder of a nun-Sister Abhaya-17 years ago inside a convent. In 2011, an autobiography by Shibu Kalaparamban, a priest for 13 years rocked the Syro-Malankara Church, the country’s largest Catholic church. Kalaparamban was suspended from the church (see box).

Interestingly, the bishop’s case comes even as attempts for a dialogue on homosexuality have begun for the first time inside the conservative churches of Kerala where Christians form 19 per cent of the population. The efforts have been set in motion by a homosexual Baptist pastor couple from the US, Stephen R. Parelli and Jose Enrique Ortiz. "On issues of sexuality, Indian churches are as conservative as the most conservative evangelical groups of the US. The curriculum of Bible colleges here is the same as followed by the most fundamentalist groups in the West. Hence the dialogue we began here is no mean achievement. There are priests and nuns with same-sex orientation here too as anywhere else in the world," says Parelli, executive director of Other Sheep, a Christian ministry that works for sexual minorities.

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