Jalandhar rape case: Women theologians write to Pope

By Matters India Reporter

New Delhi, November 20, 2018: The Indian Women Theologians Forum (IWTF) has written to Pope Francis expressing deep concerns over the way the Church in their country handles sexual abuse cases.

Around 800 Catholics from around the world have endorsed the letter sent to the Pope F with copies to ecclesiastical leaders in India, says a November 20 press release from the forum.

The letter highlights the context and facts regarding the case of sexual abuse involving the bishop of Jalandhar. It also comments on the lack of response and the inappropriate handling of the case by the Church authorities in India.

As remedial measures, the letter requests the setting up of an impartial enquiry committee with at least 50 percent women to study the allegations and taking adequate steps to support a fair trial in keeping with the Church policy of “zero tolerance of sexual abuse.”

It wants immediate implementation of the CBCI Guidelines, 2017 of the Church in India for addressing sexual abuse, in keeping with the civil laws applicable to grievance redressal mechanisms of the country.

The November 9 letter was endorsed by Catholics from 24 countries, with the United States topping the list, followed by Australia and Brazil.

The Indian signatories came from 15 states, including nearly 500 from Kerala, where the complainant and the accused of the Jalandhar case belong.

The signatories included 71 priests from India, more than 50 women religious and 16 advocates.

“In keeping with the need to be transparent in our efforts this letter is also mailed to 250 representatives of the Catholic Church, including all the cardinals and bishops within India,” the press release says.

The letter

Date: November 9, 2018
Indian Women Theologians Forum, IWTF India
His Holiness, Pope Francis
Apostolic Palace,
00120 Vatican City.
Dear Pope Francis,
Sub: A plea to intervene in the serious complaint of sexual abuse afflicting the Indian Church

The Church in India is reeling under the shock of a bishop being accused of sexually abusing a nun who was a former Superior General of the Missionaries of Jesus (MJ). The patron of this diocesan congregation is the Bishop of Jalandhar Diocese, in this case, Bp Franco Mulakkal, who is the accused person.

The alleged abuse occurred from 2014 to 2016, and from June 2017, for an entire year, the nun sought justice, appealing to the Indian bishops, the Apostolic Nuncio, members of the Curia and finally to you. Some local bishops she approached washed their hands off the case citing the fact that they belonged to the Syro-Malabar Church and did not have jurisdiction over a bishop from the Latin Rite. Finally in June 2018, in the context of threatening measures taken by Franco Mulakkal against the family members of the nun and her five supporters in the community and the persistent inaction on the part of Church authorities whom she approached, she filed a First Information Report (FIR) with the local police as a last resort to address the issue.

When the silence of the Church authorities persisted, some members of the Catholic Church, from across Kerala, organised a hunger strike outside the Kerala High Court on September 8, 2018. The MJ supporters of the complainant were requested to join the protest. A few priests and nuns from other congregations also joined in. Initially this was to be a symbolic one-day protest, but due to the growing clamour for justice for the afflicted nun, it was decided to continue the protest. Due to pressure of the public protests that went on for 14 days and the universal public attention it received in the media, the accused was finally arrested on September 21, 2018.

A Divided Church
The Church in India finds itself split between those who support the accused bishop and those who stand with the nun. Some hail the protesting nuns for taking a prophetic stand; others condemn them and see the complaint as frivolous, malicious and/or an attempt to besmirch the reputation of the Church in an already fragile political environment.

These divisions were heightened when the accused bishop received visits from his fellow bishops in prison, while the complainant, supposedly a daughter of the Church, was forsaken.

To make matters worse, on his return to Jalandhar after being granted bail, the accused was given a hero’s welcome, garlanded and showered with flower petals by his supporters in the church premises. The fact that the Apostolic Administrator did not intervene to stop this ostentatious welcome of the accused released on bail, communicates that the Church stands with the bishop in contrast to the neutral stand claimed officially by the Church.

We are deeply concerned by the lack of due attention and intervention by the Church authorities as well as the irreparable damage that has been done to the credibility of the Church in our multireligious society and the deep divide that has been created among the faithful. We find it reprehensible that the accused is still the Bishop of Jalandhar and resides in the Bishop’s house.

This is an open display of support for the accused by Church authorities, which delegitimizes the complainant and her complaint. We are dismayed by the initial silence of the bishops and their subsequent defence of this silence as these are signs of insensitivity to the pain and abandonment that the Sister survivor and her supporters are experiencing. Till date she has received no acknowledgement of her letters from the Nuncio, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, or anyone from the Vatican.

The untimely death of Fr. Kuriakose Kattuthara on October 22, 2018, within a few days of Franco Mulakkal’s release is also very disturbing. He was residing in Jalandhar and had received reports regarding the alleged incidents of sexual abuse and the atmosphere of fear prevailing within the MJ community in Kerala. He was a prime witness against Mulakkal and a supporter of the Survivor nun. Fr. Kuriakose in recent public interviews went on record saying that he was being harassed, and feared for his life if Franco Mulakkal was released. There is evidence to show that Fr. Kuriakose’s residence had been vandalized at least twice after he gave evidence against Mulakkal in this case.

Address the Crime of Sexual Abuse

The complaint against Franco Mulakkal has brought to light several procedural flaws in the Church. There is a complete lack of clarity on what procedures and policies exist within the Church i.e. who can complain in these situations, to whom, how and what is the response and remedy available. There are no support systems for the complainant/survivor within the Church institutions. This is in spite of the fact that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s standing committee approved and passed the ‘CBCI Guidelines to Deal with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’ in September 2017.

As remedy we seek:
• An official acknowledgment of this letter.
• The setting up of an impartial enquiry committee with at least 50 percent women, to report on how and why the systems in the Church failed to respond to this particular complaint, and implementation of the recommendations of this committee.
• The setting up of an impartial enquiry committee with at least 50 percent women to determine the facts of the allegations, and necessary action to be taken.
• Measures to ensure that the safety and security of the complainant and the witnesses are addressed as priority.
• That the accused no longer be allowed to reside in the bishop’s house as this is seen as a sign of the Church’s support, and further enables him to garner local support which may influence the case and be a threat to a fair trial.
• That the Holy See takes immediate action and remove Franco Mulakkal from the post of bishop of Jalandhar till the legal proceedings are completed.
• That the survivor be provided with the necessary financial resources to proceed with the case legally and to facilitate the healing necessary.
• Immediate implementation of the CBCI Guidelines, 2017 in the Church in India, and the civil laws applicable to grievance redressal mechanisms in cases of sexual abuse.

We urgently request you, Pope Francis, to engage and guide the Indian Church to address this situation in a manner that restores our faith in the Church as an institution that stands for justice and due process.
We the undersigned place our trust in your wisdom and await your intervention,

cc to:
1. Most Rev. Giambattista Diquattro, The Apostolic Nuncio to India
2. His Eminence Oswald Cardinal Gracias, President CBCI
3. Most Rev. Theodore Mascarenhas SFX, Secretary General CBCI IWTF India
4. Most Rev. Agnelo Gracias, Apostolic Administrator, Jalandhar Diocese
5. His Eminence Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro – Malabar Catholic Church
6. Most Rev. Jacob Manathodath, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of ErnakulamAngamaly
7. Archbishop Maria Calist Soosa Pakiam, President KCBC 8. Bishops in India
9. Catholic Bishops Conference of India, CBCI, Council for Women
10. Conference of Religious India, CRI, Executive Members
11. International Union of Superiors General, UISG
12. Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life
13. Pontifical Commission for Protection of Minors

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6 thoughts on “Jalandhar rape case: Women theologians write to Pope

  1. I appreciate your following this case Sujatha Jena, also your concern as a woman and religious. To respond to your dilemma about the difficulty in picking who is at fault, I feel it lies beyond the accused and the complainant. I see the answer in your quote of the women theologian who said “church is a human person which is going through an experience of heart attack”. To expand I would say that heart attack is often triggered by clogged veins and arteries that restrict and at times block the flow of blood. The first attack is often seen as a wake up call in our lives to clean up and bring about lifestyle changes that will prevent further clogging. For an institution that claims a history of 2000 years, clogs are but natural, the concern is if that is that clogs are made visible and diagnosed to understand the cause and extent of blockage, in order for it to be cleared and prevented.
    This case has brought to light several procedural flaws/clogs in the mechanisms of the Church. In terms of birth and age, the Catholic Church in Kerala, the first is said to be St. Thomas’ Syro-Malabar Church at Palayur in Thrissur district established in 52 AD. The church has grown since. There are now 1,15,000 religious in India, 95000 of whom are nuns belonging to 341 congregations. In spite of such a thriving community, the church lacks a well-defined grievance redressal mechanism. There is a complete lack of clarity on what procedures and policies exist within the church i.e. who can complain, to whom, how, what is the response one can expect, etc. Further, there are no support systems for the complainant/survivor of abuse in the church. Guided by the directives of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India’s standing committee in September, 2017 adopted the ‘CBCI Guidelines to deal with Sexual Harassment at Work Place’. However, this policy ostensibly leaves out churches and convents from the purview of workplaces it covers. It would be advantageous to explicitly include churches, the residences of clergy, seminaries, and convents under the purview of this policy as many religious and clergy as well as the full time staff are permanently stationed in these places for work and residence.
    Somewhere along the way, the commitment to a life based of Christian values of love, compassion and justice has rationalised patriarchy as a fundamental part of being Catholic. Leading to an idealising of a distorted notion of obedience and chastity in the case women and women religious in particular. Any attempt to question patriarchy, or complain about any aspect or incident is seen as disruptive. There is a tendency to equate reverence for the clergy as reverence for the church.
    It is not unusual that often times we would rather learn to live with the clogs and take medicines treating the symptoms without addressing the cause.

  2. The most important of all the questions for me is “how do we empower” our women when they are in power or out of power to safe guard their dignity. and do not compromised with NOTHING absolutely NOTHING. Women together putting this fight is good efforts but will be futile if WOMEN in general do not learn to take a stand a solid stand for their own DIGNITY. being a single woman I have learnt this fact through many bitter experience.

  3. Very surprised to know there is
    9. Catholic Bishops Conference of India, CBCI, Council for Women
    10. Conference of Religious India, CRI, Executive Members
    11. International Union of Superiors General, UISG
    12. Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life…
    If they were functioning why such problem occurred…a long One year, a ‘GENERAL’ being raped….by a bishop who offer mass everyday….?
    Why the copies to them as leaving no:1 to 6…. And no 13 is for what? is because Mr.Francko, a minor? Or the superior General was minor? Who are the advocates in this group….?
    I did not understand the sentence of zero tolerance…do you mean it is child abuse case?. Do you belive Pope after your letter is going to behave more than Jesus… See what did Jesus do with public prostitute and possessed with seven devils.?
    What did Catholic Church did with mr.agustine of hippo in the beginning years of the church(3rd century)? He is known as bishop of Catholic Church and saint of higher grade… There is woman congregation in the name of Augustinian congregation.
    Atleast happy to know that there was a group behind those sisters in strike, now we understand who were there spiritual mothers and fathers…
    Shame on to CRI…. Laymen in India build church religious protest in the church what a paradox. It is high time to regulate and stop some religious nuns and religious priests in India…

    Who will answer MLA George, 13 times she enjoyed 14 th was rape? Kerala married women doesn’t agree with the procedure of the victimised system without cooperation in one year prolonging… I strongly doubt wether pope will take action against the CRI and other commissions…

  4. I salute this”unofficial” grouping for persevering in this case. It cannot be allowed to die down. The letter would have more credence if the names of the promoters were also made public

  5. The letter written by the Indian Women Theologians Forum is much appreciated, although late – “better late than never”. The sadness, concern, anguish and anxiety expressed in the letter over the undue “SILENCE” of the CBCI and the Apostolic Nuncio reveal the truth that the Hierarchy in the Catholic Church in India (may be in some other countries too) is ALL POWERFUL. Supporting and protecting the “accused bishop” is a clear evidence that the Hierarchy in the Indian Catholic Church is NOT people-centric and it is very much clergy-centric.

    In the case of sex abuse cases in Chile, all the Chilean bishops met the Pope and submitted their resignations. That shows the HUMILITY and the OPENNESS on the part of those bishops. Will this ever happen in India? Unless and until the Hierarchy makes a public confession – mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa – Pope Francis CANNOT work any wonder. Let us be aware of this simple fact.

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