Former priests and nuns call for severance payments

An expelled Indian nun's fight for compensation has inspired former priests and nuns in India for the introduction of mandatory severance payments similar to those offered to employees of private firms.

A former Kerala nun of the Syro-Malabar Church, known only as ‘Anitha’, was expelled in February from the Italy-based Sisters of St. Agatha after repeatedly claiming that she had been sexually assaulted by a priest in 2011. She had demanded compensation and threatened legal action. 

Her expulsion, and the order’s late March offer of a €17,500 settlement “out of Christian charity”, has emboldened hundreds of other former priests and nuns to seek severance payments. 

About 700 gathered in Cochin on February 28 to call on the church to change its practice, with Reji Njallani, one of the organisers, recently claiming that many priests and religious leave their ministry without financial support or “skills or education to work in the wider world”.

70-year-old Mani Parampatt, a former priest of the Little Flower Congregation, says current Church practice is “a clear human rights violation”. He argues that while “Church officials always speak of kindness and charity”, they too often “refuse to see things in the way of human rights”.

Senior clergy have, however, defended the present Church system, with Fr Joseph Chinnayyan, the former president of the Canon Law Society of India, pointing out that vocations are not professions but entail a “free and total commitment”, such that the rules surrounding them “should not be compared with trade union laws and other existing severance provisions”.