India: Brave senior nun accusing a Bishop of rape sheds light on Catholic Church's abuse of nuns Print E-mail

Friday July 13 2018

Spotlight on abuse of nuns

An unequal power equation prevails in the church which is steeped in patriarchy; and sexually abused nuns find little support

Sexual abuse of nuns is allegedly rampant in churches (PTI)

By Flavia Agnes. Feminist scholar & women's rights activist

THE Christian clergy in Kerala is gripped in a series of sexual scandals where nuns and lay women have come out and lodged criminal complaints of rape and sexual harassment in recent times. At least 13 priests belonging to either the Roman Catholic or the Syrian Orthodox Church are facing police enquiries. The latest is the complaint filed by a senior nun that Franco Mulakkal, Bishop of Jalandhar (which comes under the Delhi Archdiocese of the Catholic Church), raped her 13 times since 2014.

This is not the first time that allegations of sexual abuse have been made by nuns or by other women against priests. But this time, a bishop is involved, which makes the offence very serious. A bishop is meant to act as a spiritual guide to the diocese.

Sexual abuse and humiliation which nuns and others who serve in church institutions are subjected to has been spoken about in hushed tones. There have been some instances of nuns leaving the religious order, and speaking or writing about their experiences of humiliation and sexual abuse. But most often, the victims do not talk about it for fear that they will be ostracised since the priest is too powerful.

Since the abuse is reportedly rampant and seldom addressed, some Christian women activists and associations of various religious orders, including the Indian Christian Women's Movement (ICWM), the Conference of Religious India (CRI) Women's Section, the Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace (FORUM), have been prevailing upon the Roman Catholic Church to address the issue and bring in remedial measures. But the church authorities have been dragging their feet over it.

The Roman Catholic Church was quick to follow the dictates of Rome regarding the clergy's abuse of young children after various legal cases were filed in the US and elsewhere regarding the abuse of young male children by the clergy where the church had to pay heavy damages and penalties. A child protection policy has been put in place and it is applicable to all church institutions and church-administered schools.

But when it came to sexual abuse of women, the Church hesitated as the authorities felt that it might tarnish its image and that it would be like accepting that sexual abuse is prevalent within churches. But due to efforts of various women activists within the church, a sexual harassment policy was finally implemented. However, it seems to be locked up in a secret chamber and vulnerable persons who need to be aware of its existence are kept in the dark.

In this setting, the alleged sexual abuse by the Jalandhar was a time bomb waiting to explode.

An unequal power equation prevails. In addition, church institutions are steeped in patriarchy which is difficult to dislodge. Religious women (nuns) do not have the power to manage church affairs or church institutions. These continue to be male bastions. Change is extremely slow and women continue to be treated as subordinates and handmaidens at the service of the male hierarchy. Within such lopsided power structures, it is not surprising that women are abused. Very little rights discourse takes place within these institutions.

Where the victims/survivors are concerned, there is apprehension that their superiors also will not support them and a complaint may result in the complainant having to leave the convent and she may not even get social acceptance outside.

But this time, the victim nun has withstood the pressure. When her initial complaints were ignored, she boldly approached the police. The accused is the Bishop of Jalandhar and the abuse allegedly took place in Kerala. Both the victim and abuser hail from Kerala. Hence, the investigations are being carried out in Kerala.

But even this time, sadly, the church's stand has been evasive and Catholic newspapers have put out a narrative blaming the victim. The bishop has asked several lay people to write letters supporting his stand and making the nun look like a manipulator. He has stated that her complaint was an act of revenge. While the nun's statement has been recorded, the bishop, who has dismissed the allegations as baseless, is yet to be questioned. The victim's family says that despite a complaint to the Delhi Archbishop about the abuse, nothing was done. The police have also registered a case against the nun and her relatives on a complaint from the bishop. They say that they received the bishop's complaint first and the nun filed her complaint a day later.

Kochurani Abraham, a women's rights activist in Kerala, says that the cases have opened the floodgates and not just of sexual abuse but also general issues concerning the community. Gender justice, priesthood, confession are now discussed on TV channels, which is a positive outcome.

Virginia Saldanha, Secretary, ICWM, says the earlier interventions have been within the ecclesiastical boundaries in order to save the face of the church. But now things are in the open. She hopes that truth will prevail and it will encourage other nuns to come out and speak about abuse, if any, and that the church leadership will wake up to the reality of women's state in churches.

Christian women's organisations have written to the president of the church hierarchy in India as well as to Pope Francis to take up the issue and ask the bishop to step down "so that the Church is seen to actually practice the 'zero tolerance' it professes to observe in abuse cases". "If the bishop continues to remain in his position, it will erode the faith of the people in the credibility of the Church." The letter is also signed by around 175 individuals. They hope that with their backing, the nun will be able to withstand the pressure exerted on her from the bishop and the church authorities.

 Saturday July 14, 2018

Letters urge Catholic officials to remove Indian bishop accused of rape

By Catholic News Service

Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar, India, is pictured in an undated photo. ( CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Jullundur.)

NEW DELHI, India - Catholic and other leaders have urged that a bishop accused of raping an Indian Catholic nun be removed from his position. reported that in a July 12 letter to Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, and another of the same date to Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro, apostolic nuncio to India, 168 people asked for action against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar.

The unidentified nun, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, complained to police June 29 of being raped in May 2014 and then sexually abused multiple times over the following two years by Mulakkal, reported. The bishop is patron of the congregation.

The letter asked Diquattro to "advise Pope Francis to relieve the bishop concerned of his pastoral responsibilities so that the Church is seen to actually practice the zero tolerance it professes to observe in abuse cases."

The signatories include representatives of the Indian Theological Association, a forum of Catholic theologians; the Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace, an advocacy group for women religious; the Indian Christian Women's Movement, a national conference of women religious and others; and the interdenominational United Christian Forum for Human Rights.

The accused continuing in his position as bishop of Jalandhar "will erode the faith of the people in the credibility of the Church to implement its policy of zero tolerance and act justly in abuse matters," both letters said.

Police have begun to investigate the bishop over the alleged assault that was said to have occurred when he visited a convent in the Diocese of Palai in Kerala state, in southwest India.

The nun alleged that the bishop harassed her when she resisted sexual abuse. She and her family claim that Church authorities have ignored their complaints.

Mulakkal told media the accusation arose only after Church authorities began disciplinary action following allegations that the nun was having sexual relations with her cousin's husband.

The signatories said they are "concerned about the mud-slinging" between the bishop and priests in his diocese and the nun and her family. This has "turned the Church into an object of ridicule," causing "a lot of harm ... to the faith of the people of God"    as well as to the "integrity and mission" of the Church, they said.

The letter to Gracias said the representations made by the nun to the bishops "have brought no response, raising issues about the credibility" of the bishops' guidelines on dealing with sexual harassment.

It asked the cardinal to ensure that dioceses "publicize and create adequate awareness" about the guidelines and "institute the structures and procedures" to address allegations of sexual misconduct without delay.

"Sexual abuse is ultimately not about sexuality or celibacy, but about the gross misuse of the disproportionate power assigned to clergy," the signatories said.

"Pope Francis has shown the way by holding accused bishops accountable even at risk to the reputation of the Church. We look to our bishops to follow his example," they said.


 Saturday July 14, 2018

Nun complained to me: Pala bishop

Special Correspondent
KOTTAYAM: Tells police no written complaint was given

The investigation into the alleged rape of a nun by Bishop Franco Mulakkal, head of the Jalandhar diocese of the Catholic Church, is nearing completion with the police on Saturday recording the statement of Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt, head of the Pala diocese of the Church. The bishop's statement was recorded as the nun had said that she had complained to him about the issue earlier.

According to the investigation officer K. Subhash, Dy.SP, Vaikom, the bishop's statement corroborated the nun's complaint. The bishop informed him that the nun had complained to him about the issue. She had met him on the advice of Fr. Joseph Thadathil, the vicar at the Martha Mariam Forane Church at Kuravilangad to which the Mission House of Missionaries of Jesus was attached. The complaint was made verbally and there was no written complaint, Bishop Kallarangatt had said. The statement was recorded at the Bishop's House at Pala.

Priest's statement
The statement of Fr. Thadathil was also recorded by the police on Saturday. According to Mr. Subhash, his statement also corroborated the complaint of the nun recorded earlier. The statement of the priest was recorded at the office of the Dy.SP, Vaikom.

The police are also trying to record the statements of two nuns from the mission who had left the congregation, allegedly because of mistreatment by Bishop Mulakkal. The statement of a relative of the nun will also be recorded.
 Sunday July 15 2018

Rape case: Kerala cops to question Bishop in Jalandhar

By Deepkamal Kaur/Tribune News Service

Jalandhar: A team of the Kerala police will be visiting the city next week to interrogate Bishop Franco Mulakkal, Catholic Bishop of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, against whom they had registered an FIR for allegedly raping a nun.

Now based in Kerala, the victim was earlier superior general of a congregation, Missionaries of Jesus, Jalandhar Cantonment. Confirming the development over the phone, Hari Sankar, District Police Chief, Kottyam, said: "We have already been working on collecting evidence in the case. The 13 occasions, mentioned by the nun regarding abuse by the Bishop, tally with his visitor log book entries at the convent. We have been told that the Bishop was also sending her indecent messages."

The Kerala police have taken the mobile phones of both the nun and the Bishop into custody. When contacted, Bishop Franco said: "I have never sent any personal message to the nun. I always made calls for official works whenever I had to. My relation with her was limited only to work. The complainant has smartly filed the complaint after checking dates from the log book. I will be glad to give my version to the Kerala police."

With cross-FIR filed by the Bishop against the nun, there are allegations and counter-allegations between the two.

The Bishop said: "How can I rape her 13 times over two years (2014-16) and she would still be happily accompanying me to religious programmes?"

The Tribune talked to Father Sebastian Pallasery, a cousin of the nun in Kerala. He said: "The victim is under depression. She is a nun and he was the authority. She kept bearing it till she finally gathered courage to say no. That was in 2016 and the Bishop never went there after that."