Police say they arrested St Anne Sister Anastasia, 63, on May 14 after finding 18 grams of marijuana in her handbag when she entered the prison in Madurai, a temple city about 2,510 kilometres south of New Delhi, UCA News reports.
The nun, who has been active in prison ministry, said she was taking a packet to a prisoner suffering from AIDS. She explained that an old woman claiming to be the man's mother gave her the sealed packet and said it contained medicine.
Police say they found marijuana, two mobile phone SIM cards and letters. They did not accept the nun's explanation and filed a case against her. After presenting Sr Anastasia before the local court, the police released her on bail.
According to applicable laws, anyone convicted of smuggling one kilogram of marijuana or less faces up to six months in jail.
Church people in the southern state regret what happened.
"This incident is unfortunate and can tarnish the image of the Catholic community in the state," Archbishop Peter Fernando of Madurai, chairperson of the Tamil Nadu Bishops' Council, told UCA News.
Council Spokesperson Fr Vincent Chinnadurai says the nun acted imprudently and put her congregation as well as the Tamil Nadu Church "in a difficult position."
He said the way the incident occurred makes the Church suspect it was a set-up to trap the nun and others who support her work.
The state government recently permitted prison ministry members to visit prisons, but only after much deliberation. Fr Vincent Xavier, who coordinates prison ministry in the state, says the incident will make their work more difficult and permission for future visits harder to come by.
"Working in prison ministry is very difficult and those who (do) need to be extra careful," Fr Xavier said.
Sr Anastasia began work in the prisons after retiring from teaching 10 years ago, her provincial superior, Sr Elsy, told UCA News.
Ten nuns from the congregation are working full-time in prison ministry. The superior said the incident has saddened them, but "we will continue our work in prison ministry despite this setback."
Nun Arrested For 'Smuggling' Marijuana Into Prison (UCA News, 17/5/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Police seize Xavier college cannabis (CathNews, 12/4/07)
Catholic college in student drug bust (CathNews, 11/4/07)
Pope urges political action against drugs (CathNews, 5/12/05)
Schools acting to protect their trade marks (CathNews, 15/3/04)
Teacher charged with sale of drugs in schoolgrounds (CathNews, 25/6/02)
No medical marijuana at Vatican pharmacy (CathNews, 24/5/02)
18 May 2007