By John Dayal
We as a community must demand that Franco Mulakkal, the former bishop of the Jalandhar Catholic diocese, in the northwestern Punjab state, [suspended, or how do we describe his present canonical position], be tried in a fast track court on the charges of multiple rapes of a nun for which he has been arrested by the Kerala police. He is in their custody. At this stage, he is no more and no less than an accused, not a convict.
A fast-track trial is in the best interests of Franco, of the nun, the Church and the community at large.
A speedy trial is in the best interests of the governments of Kerala and also of Punjab, both accused of delaying investigations to help the accused.
It is patently and foremost in the best interests of Franco and of the complainant nun and her family. If Franco is guilty, the Church will be well rid of a criminal. If he is innocent, he too will emerge triumphant, scarred by the fires of passage, but strong and tempered.
His public ignominy and humiliation in the media will be bought to an end. How he reconciles with this time of his life is something he will have to dwell on wherever he finds himself once the extended period of trial, and the legal challenges in the High Court and the Supreme Court of India finally end.
As for the nun, the complainant and the victim in the public eye, justice in a fast track court will bring urgent closure to her long extrajudicial trial in a section of the media, and by her congregation and others. If her alleged assailant is convicted, her honor would be vindicated. If he is not convicted, she faces a more severe test than at present. She is the most vulnerable and has the maximum at stake.
As a woman, and a religious, and irrespective of the veracity of her allegations, she is the one we need to help through this terrible personal crisis. We have all betrayed her by not listening when she first spoke, not directing her to the police and assisting her file a case. There never should have been an attempt to hush it up, to resort to calumny.
There never can be reconciliation in rape, or compromise, or any other way of seeking the truth other than in a court of law. Anything else will be making us accessory before, during and after the fact. Culpable, morally if not legally. This is true for the members of the hierarchy of the region, and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) as much as for us who speak for the community, but not for the leadership.
A decision by the judge may vindicate her, but how will her congregation make amends? And if the ruling is in favor of the bishop, how is she to be rehabilitated in the congregation, the church and the community?
I think the most awkward is the position of the congregation. They have betrayed a member sister, they have connived in a crime by committing several crimes against the person of the nun; the publication of her photograph is also a crime under national laws. The most seniors in the leadership have thrown each other to the wolves. By rights, the congregation should be disbanded. It will remain the decision of the Bishop of Jalandhar, whoever it is.
Learning from this experience, more strict systems must be installed for all such single diocese congregations. The members of this congregation could be absorbed in other similar congregations, or regrouped into a new congregation with a new leadership and new constitution.
The day the scandal broke, I had put on my Facebook the cryptic phrase Mutual Assured Destruction. We are close to it in this case. The media and the communal parties could be expected to exploit our situation. We can’t blame them.