Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Should the Salesian Rector be the Spiritual Director of Salesians in Formation?

The Salesian Constitutions and the Formation of the Salesians of Don Bosco stipulate that the Rector be the preferential choice as spiritual director especially for Salesians in formation.

Regulations 78: Formation communities must have a rector and a team of formation personnel who are specially trained, above all as regards spiritual direction which is ordinarily given by the rector himself (emphasis mine).

FSDB. No. 262. … According to Salesian tradition, the Rector of the formation community, … is the spiritual director proposed to the confreres , without taking away their ability to choose another spiritual director.

FSDB. No. 292. The Rector of the Community is always the spiritual director proposed to, but not imposed on, the individual confreres. The confreres in formation can approach, in addition to the Rector….

FSDB No. 345. … to perform this task… (which includes spiritual direction), the Provincial expressly designates the Rector and the team….

It is true that in the mind of the Congregation, based on tradition, the Rector is the preferred spiritual director.

However, such a position is no longer helpful, rather is destructive, in the context of changed realities in regard to the candidates now entering religious (Salesian) life, as described in Context 2 below.

 As the Holy Father Pope Francis recently observed it is important to change structures when they are no longer helpful, even if they have part of long tradition.

Context 1: Sexual Abuse Experience of many candidates to Religious/Salesian life

Research data indicate that a large number of boys and girls are victims of sexual abuse.
Basing herself on the results of various research studies, Virani (2000) concluded that the prevalence rate of child sexual abuse in India is close to 50 % for girls and 30 % for boys under the age of 16.

More recent studies show greater prevalence of abuse both among girls and boys in India than those reported by Virani (2000). Contrary to popular notions as well as reports in previous studies the prevalence rate of sexual abuse among boys is reported to be higher than that among girls. The Study of Child Abuse India 2007 prepared by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare of the Government of India (2007) reported the following:
Out of the total [12447] child respondents, 53.22% reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse that included severe and other forms. Among them 52.94% were boys and 47.06% girls…..

The Catholic Church in India is not immune to this phenomenon. Many members of the clergy and religious have had sexual abuse experiences. There is both research (Parappully, 2003) and anecdotal evidence that confirm this view.

There is also anecdotal evidence that a large number of candidates now entering religious life have been victims of sexual abuse. At the annual Conference of Catholic Psychologists in India, a number of men and women involved in formation have reported that a large number of their candidates have had sexual abuse experience.

Context 2: Secrecy around sexual abuse (resistance to disclosure).

Research, as well as clinical experience, shows that there is a great deal of secrecy around sexual abuse experience.

A research on the sexual abuse experience of North American nuns (Chibnall,Wolf, & Duckro, 1998) showed that 23.6 percent of those who were abused had never discussed the abuse with another person. These women had kept their experience of sexual abuse secret for an average of 54.3 years! For those who had discussed the abuse, an average of 24.7 years had elapsed between the onset of the abuse and their first disclosure.

Context 3: Difficulty around disclosure and working through effects of sexual abuse when rectors/novice masters are also the spiritual directors.

Secrecy is mostly broken in the context of confidential encounters such as in counselling and spiritual direction. However, if the person offering counselling and spiritual direction is also involved in decision making regarding the future of the candidate, such as the Rector or the Novice Master, the victim would be very reluctant to disclose the abuse experience for fear that his continuation would be jeopardised.

It would also be very difficult for the Rector or the Novice Master to offer the kind of confidentiality necessary for disclosure.

This dual role that a Rector/Novice Master plays—decision-maker/ spiritual director—can complicate the helping process. It cannot lead to a successful healing because in this situation the Rector/Novice Master has too much power and authority over the survivor, which makes it difficult for the survivor to develop the necessary trust and confidence, regardless of how reassuring the authority figure is.

Recently at a Workshop that I (Jose Parappully) did on “Psychosexual Integration and Celibate Maturity” a woman formator reported that 60-70 percent of her novices have had sexual abuse. When I asked her how she knows, she said the candidates themselves had disclosed that to her.

At that, a former Salesian Novice Master who was present said that was not his experience. He felt that they did not have such experience because almost none of his novices had disclosed to him that he had been sexually abused!

Also, the congregation’s expectation that the Rector or the Novice Master keeps aside information gained in the internal forum while making decisions, is problematic. The Rector or the Novice Master can be unconsciously influenced by the information.

Hence it quite likely that many candidates who have had sexual abuse experience do not get the help they require. This has implications for the affective maturity expected of a Salesian as indicated in context 5 below.

Context 4: Impact on the affective maturity of the future Salesian when effects of sexual abuse are not worked through.

If a candidate has not healed sufficiently from his sexual abuse experience, he cannot really fulfil the requirements for Salesian life and ministry as envisaged in Nos 59, 60, 61, and 62 of CNSVD – Admissions (2000).

It is hard for the candidate to work through the effects of his sexual abuse experience if the spiritual director is Rector or Novice Master, for reasons pointed out earlier.

One of the commons factors found among priests who went on to abuse minors is the fact they themselves had been abused by an adult in childhood and had not worked through its effects (Terry, et al., 2010)

Context 5
Rectors these days are not generally trained to be spiritual directors.

Hence my proposal:

Ideally the Rector or Novice Master should not be the spiritual director of confreres and candidates in formation.

Stipulations in the Constitutions and Regulations (2009) and FSDB (2000) related to spiritual direction should be changed accordingly.

Chibnall, J. T., Wolf, A., & Duckro, P. N. (1998). A national survey of the sexual trauma     experiences of catholic nuns. Review of Religious Research, 40(2), 142-167.
Constitutions and regulations. (2009 3rd. ed.) Rome: Editrice S.D.B.
Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment – Admissions. (2000. 3rd ed.). Rome: Editrice S.D.B.
Formation of Salesian of Don Bosco – Principles and Norms (2000, 3rd ed.). Rome:
Ministry of Women and Child Welfare. Government of India (2007). Study on child abuse India 2007 [Electronic version]. New Delhi: Author.
Parappully, J. (2003). Sexual abuse: Data from clinical experience. Jnanadeepa: Pune Journal of Religious Studies, 6(2), 146-157.
Terry, K. J., Smith, M. L., Schuth, K., Kelly, J. R., Vollman, B., & Massey, C. (2011). The causes and context of sexual abuse of minors by catholic priests in the United States, 1950 -2010. A report presented to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops by the John Jay College research Team [Electronic version]. Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Virani, P. (2000) Bitter chocolate: Child sexual abuse in India. New Delhi: Penguin.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Recently my colleague CM Paul posted a piece on Salesian formation on his Wordpress blog (see.  He had told me earlier that the piece was awaiting clearance from BIS gatekeepers. I notice it has finally appeared on BIS.

Meanwhile Paul’s post on Wordpress quickly got a conversation going on the state of Salesian formation in India, with several Salesians chipping in. Even the General Councillor for Formation and the General Councillor for the Missions entered the multilogue. Paul told me he was surprised by the volume of conversation

And I said to myself: This conversation should be happening on BIS and not on Wordpress. What a pity!

It is happening on Wordpress because BIS does not provide a forum for a conversation. I had called attention to this on BIS some time ago. Paul too had done the same. I had then heard fears expressed of the potential for misuse. Misplaced fears, really!

If you glance through the number of comments on Paul’s Wordpress post, you won’t find a single post that is objectionable. The posts show great maturity and raise relevant points. And I think all the posts are from Salesians! Isn’t it strange that the Salesians are having a conversation on a crucial Salesian issue on Wordpress rather than on BIS!

Why can’t BIS Speak Up have a similar facility for a conversation to be set in motion? In not doing so, BIS is doing itself a disservice. It is missing out on the conversation and other sites are benefiting in turn.

I have stopped posting on Speak Up for some time now precisely because there is no scope for a conversation. I feel that the energy and time involved in writing a Speak Up is not worth the effort as it does not lead to any conversation.

I would request the policy makers at the BIS helm to provide such space for conversation at least as an experimental basis. May be start by providing opportunity for registered members, than the readers at large. Let’s see what happens.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

“A PERSON IS AT LIBERTY TO CONVERT TO ANY RELIGION AT ANY TIME,” SAYS A JUDGE. (Then why is conversion banned, and converts arrested?)

Some days ago there was an interesting piece of news (The Times of India, New Delhi, Tuesday, March 29, 2011) about an Indian Christian priest in charge of A church in Delhi who married a woman after both had secretly converted to Islam, begot a child and at his death bequeathed all his property to his child. His family when they got to know about it contested the will in court arguing the marriage was null and void as it was against the priest’s celibate vow and so the child was illegitimate.

The judge thought otherwise, and said marriage is marriage and the priest had every right to will his property to his wife and child. I tend to agree with the judge. A man has to be responsible for a wife and child, priest or no priest.

But the judge in his verdict also said something else that is very interesting, and might have been missed by many. He wrote: “A person is at liberty to convert into any religion whenever he wants. There was no legal bar for a Christian or even a priest, on converting to Islam.”

If a “person is at liberty to convert to any religion whenever he wants” why do we have the euphemistically labelled Freedom of Religion Act in some of our States that forbid conversion to another religion? I think this is an interesting point to consider and, may be these Acts need to be fought, again, in the light of the recent judgment. Why is conversion to Christianity a crime?

And incidentally today (April 03, 2011) comes the news (in CathNews-India) that “Police have arrested 12 tribals on charges of converting to Christianity in Orissa’s Mayurbhanj district….The converts were arrested for violating the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, which bans any conversion that is done without a permit issued by the authorities.”

If a “person is at liberty to convert into any religion at any time” why does he or she need a permit from the authorities to do so?

Returning to the case of the priest’s marriage, how come it remained a secret? Was it really a secret? Wouldn’t someone or other familiar with the priest known about it? Just wondering!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Cyberspace, is the new playground. That’s where young people gather today. Are the Salesians, the self-proclaimed Missionaries of the Young, able to accompany the young where they now gather?. What’s their presence in cyberspace?

It’s hard to change a mind set and move with the times. Even today, the Salesians in India give priority to running schools and meeting the youngsters on the school playgrounds. If Don Bosco were here today he would be in Cyberspace in a huge way –and not on the school playground. We are missing the boat!

The Salesian have two major WebPages – and, the former the official international site and the latter the official South Asian Site. But whom do these serve? The Salesians, of course. What’s the content of these pages? Salesian stuff, of course! In what way do these pages serve young people? Not much! Where’s the content that would attract young people to these pages? Very little indeed! It’s time the Salesians offered a Web that would truly become a playground where the Salesians and the young chat together—walk together. For this Salesians have also to be much more comfortable and adept at using the language and tools of cyberspace, if they are to truly accompany the young today. And have an appreciative, positive attitude toward Cyberspace and its enormous potential for good.

And, if we are to reach the young in Cyberspace, the sites have to be truly interactive, with ample scope for exchanging ideas and making comments freely. From what I have read in regard to this, the Salesians are mighty scared of such interaction capabilities!

But individually some of us Salesians have discovered the power of the personal blog. As our media commentator CM Paul said in a recent email to a former General Councillor, “we are going to have a new revolution free and loud expression of opinions and ideas thru personal BLOGs...That will cover and criss cross all boundaries!”

I can't but quote here a favourite Gospel verse: "Fear is useless. Only trust is needed!"

Welcome to new possibilities!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Defenders of the Law above the Law?

Something in a few-days-old newspaper lying in my room caught my attention. The headline said, “Bill to hide judges’ assets from RTI.”

One of the recent measures that has been helping to make public officials more accountable to the people is the Right to Information Act (RTI), which has been put to very effective use by socially conscious citizens.

However, the judges of the Supreme Court of India had been resisting the efforts to bring them under the purview of RTI. In particular, they had been resisting attempts to make them disclose their financial assets. The Chief Justice of India had been in the forefront of this resistance, citing reasons of confidentiality. The Government of India was siding with the judges, and was set to bring a bill in Rajya Sabha (that is the Upper House of Parliament) to keep the details of the judges’ wealth out of the public realm, said the news report. “If the bill goes through, then the high court and supreme court judges will be the only people exempt from public scrutiny of their assets,” the report continued, “a privilege not extended even to the president and the prime minister.”

Strange, I said to myself. Why is it necessary that judges’ wealth be kept secret - unless they have something to hide? And the government wants to protect them with the bill – which means the government too has a stake in it. Especially in the context of a number of judges in recent past being found corrupt, the proposed law in question would only encourage judges to be more corrupt.

Recent events have shown the impropriety of such a proposed law. A number of judges of High courts have voluntarily disclosed their assets and even written articles in support of disclosure – in a way standing up to the Chief Justice and the judges of the Supreme Court. Their action forced the Supreme Court judges to give in and agree to disclose their assets. And the Government blinked. It dropped the bill.

A couple of days ago, the Delhi High Court gave a verdict that the Chief Justice of India comes under purview of the RTI. Hurray for democracy! Hurray for the judiciary!

There is more! A day after the Delhi High Court verdict, jurists hailed it. Three former Chief Justices of the Supreme Court congratulated the Delhi High Court for the verdict, and asked the Supreme Court to accept the verdict and not challenge it.

I was glad to hear that one of the former CJI, Justice V. N. Khare reflected my own sentiments expressed earlier in this blog. He said: The Delhi High Court verdict “has upheld the dignity of the judiciary. If we were to hide anything, it would only give rise to suspicion that we have something to hide.” Right!!

Prometheus: Those who have power (that includes Supreme Court Judges) hold on to it, until it is wrested from them. That’s history. And those who are out of power will normally side with the powerless. That too is history.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


India celebrates Teachers Day today and I was invited to address teachers at a school. The following is a recalled description of part of what I said.

Teaching, as in imparting knowledge, such as maths, science, geography etc., is only one of the functions of a teacher. Among the more imporant ones I focused on today is: creating the contexts in which children can grow emotionally.

A very important part of this function is helping children meet ther basic emotional needs. Self Determination Theory (SDT) in psychology has zeroed in on three basic emotional needs: relatedness, competenc and autonomy.

Relatedness refers to the need to feel accepted and loved, to have a sense of belonging. Competence means that one feels capable of achieving desires results, one feels capable and ocnfident. Autonomy here is understood as freedom to make choices, to give directions to one's life, to have a say on matters that affect one's life.

An effective teacher does not just impart knowledge, but creates an environment in the class room and in the school which faciliates the satisfaction of these basic needs.

When such an environment reigns in the class room, then children will be intrinsially motivated to study, that is, they study because they enjoy studying.

Self Determination theorists Ryan and Deci tell us:

Contexts supportive of autonomy, competence, and relatedness were found to foster greater internalization and integration than contexts that thwart satisfaction of these needs. This latter finding, we argue, is of great significance for individuals who wish to motivate others in a way that engenders commitment, effort, and high quality performance.

….if the social contexts in which such individuals are embedded are responsive to basic psychological needs, they provide the appropriate developmental lattice upon which an active, assimilative, and integrated nature can ascend. Excessive control, non-optimal challenges, and lack of connectedness, on the other hand, disrupt the inherent actualizing and organizational tendencies endowed by nature, and thus such factors result not only in lack of initiative and responsibility but also in distress and psychopathology (2000, p. 76).

Teachers are individuals who wish to motivate others in a way that engenders commitment, effort, and high quality performance. More than techniques and tricks, what they require to motivate their students is the ability to create the context in which stufents feel accepted and loved, competent and confident, and free to be creative.

Happy Teachers Day!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Firestealer

Prometheus is the guy who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humankind. The gods got mad and punished Prometheus and bound him in chains.

Challenging the gods or stealing from them is a very dangerous enterprise. However, anyone who is interested in the welfare of humankid will have to challenge the gods (read: the establishment, the mighty, the powerful, the influential...) or even steal from them. Of course, one will have to pay a price for this.

I hope to post here some thoughts and reflections that challenge/question prevailing values, assumptions etc.

I don't know who will be reading this blog. Whether one reads or not, this is a place I can talk to myself, at least. Give expression to the thoughts that come by. If the thoughts touch any one, that's a bonus!

Welcome, to Prometheus Rediux!!