By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: Attacks on Catholic religious women from within the community and outside seem to dissuade young women from dedicating their lives to serve God and society.
“The consequences of these scandals will be far-reaching. Already the vocations to convents are falling in Kerala; convent will start closing in the near future,” warns Father Paul Thelakat, a senior priest and editor of the Sathyadeepam, a weekly magazine of the archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly.
According to Father Thelakat, the latest case where a nun has accused a bishop of multiple rapes and the official Church’s laxity in taking action have seriously affected not only Catholics but also members of other religions.
The failure of the Church leadership “has sent a message of rudderless ship which has lost the moral and spiritual strength,” bemoans the priest, who has supported five nuns of the Missionaries of Jesus who on September 8 began an indefinite sit-in at a busy intersection near the Kerala High Court in Kochi, Kerala.
One of their senior nuns had on June 28 lodged a police complaint in Kottayam, Kerala, that Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar had subjected her to rape and unnatural sex 13 times from May 2014 to September 2016. Theirs is a diocesan congregation under the diocese of Jalandhar and Bishop Mulakkal is their patron.
Bishop Mulakkal has denied the charges, calling them “concocted” and said the nun holds a vendetta against him after he had initiated disciplinary action against her. In interviews with Indian television channels on Sept. 10, Mulakkal, 54, said he had advised the present superior of the Missionaries of Jesus to act on a complaint from a married woman who said the nun was having an affair with her husband.
The bishop and his accuser have drawn many supporters who trade charges against each other as the Kerala continue its probe and the Kerala High Court deals with the case. The police have summoned the bishop to appear for a second round of interrogation in Kerala on September 19.
Father Thelakat says the Church cannot always cover up when a few in the hierarchy betray their vocation and return to their animality.
“When the Church refuses to be a confessing church it can become a persecuting Church,” Father Thelakat told Matters India through email.
The Church in India that was quiet on the nun rape case, disapproved the sisters’ sit-in as an act of “crossing the limits” carried out at the behest of vested interests.
Father Thelakat says the Church in Kerala is rich and powerful with bishops who have direct access to political leadership even in the Marxist party ruling the State.
“They could influence the government for just inquiry and actions instead giving opportunity of the accusation of becoming accomplices in the attempts to destroy the Church,” he says.
Father Thelakat says this was not first time a nun has alleged sexual assault. But the Church leaders react differently when the attack is by an outsider.
Two Catholic nuns were raped during a robbery in St Mary´s Convent at Gajraula in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on the night of July 12, 1990. The incident triggered protest marches all over India joined by nuns, priest and bishops. The police caught the culprits and sent them to jail.
“Nobody asked then whether there was evidence or the facts were true. Protest was natural and nuns of bishops had no hesitation to do it. Now in 2018 a nun is complaining to the Church authorities of sexual assault by a bishop.
She even complained to the nuncio, the Vatican representative in India. These complaints did not move any Church authority to intervene and redress the grievances. Then she complained to the police of the State.”
The priest lambasted the Church’s “deafening silence” and “withdrawal of the issue” when the nun accused the bishop of rape. He terms as “absence of moral leadership” whenever the Church “looks away from the victim giving enough space for interpretations of complicity with the culprit.”
According to him, what is happening now in Kerala makes parents think not only twice but refuse if any girl wishes at all to join the convent,
The former spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church says the scandals involving priests and nuns have cut the roots of vocations in the Church and led to the youth drifting away from the Church.
K M Varghese, father of Sister Anupama, one of the protesting nuns, agrees. The 67-year-old farmer, who is a regular face at the nuns’ protest venue, says he would never allow a woman from his family to become a nun.
“We sent our daughter to become a nun, but now she sits on protest for justice. It is really painful,” he told Global Sisters Report September 10. He said the turn of events has made his family sad.
He said he had met Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, along with the rape survivor and another nun to seek his assistance for his daughter who was facing difficulties in the congregation.
“On November 23, 2017, I sought his help. I told him about the mental agony my daughter was going through and the other sister apprised him about her problems. He had a closed door discussion with the survivor for over 15 minutes. Later, he told me he would take care of everything and I was not to approach the media or the police. But, I never got any help,” said Varghese, adding that he didn’t get a chance to meet the cardinal again due to various reasons.
He regrets that too much time has passed since the nun leveled the accusation against the bishop. “I believe potency test should have been done way earlier. Now, I doubt whether the bishop has sought medical assistance with which he could manipulate such a test in future.
Why is there a delay?” The Times of India quoted Varghese as asking.