THE CHURCH’S WHISTLEBLOWER
In 2009, after 33 years with the Congregation of the Mother Carmelite, Sister Jesme dealt a very public blow to the Kerala Catholic Church by leaving it because of, what she called, years and years of emotional and mental torment.
The Church was already under a troubled spotlight following the murder of Sister Abhaya and the suicide of another nun. Born in Thrissur, Sister Jesme earned her doctorate in English Literature alongside her religious training. After leaving the Church, Sister Jesme wrote about her experiences as a nun, exposing the rampant corruption and inescapable sexual exploitation, both of a homosexual and heterosexual nature.
In her book Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun, Jesme narrates her story from that of a young girl wanting to dedicate her life to Jesus, to her learning first-hand about the ugly realities within the convent walls — being coerced into a sexual relationship with an older sister, sexual abuse by priests, her appeals of help being ignored by senior nuns, all culminating in her quitting as the Principal of St Mary’s College in Trichur, Kerala.
The breaking point for her came when her Congregation tried to force her to seek psychiatric help, discrediting her voice as that of a mad woman. Through her writings, Jesme has established herself as an active voice in exposing corruption in the church where large sums of money go missing and its draconian rules which severely punish low ranking nuns but let its senior members go scot free. Her mission now is to let society know exactly what happens to women who put on the habit, for which she has earned accusations of being a heretic and of trying to get cheap publicity. Weathering all this, Jesme has shown the world the stark gender inequality and the prison-like lives of women in the Church.