By Anita Cheria
Bengaluru, August 11, 2019: Until August 2018, Sisters Lucy Kalapura and Lissy Vadakkel had very little in common except that they belonged to the same congregation and had somewhat similar names. But today they are perceived as partners in crime. The media refers to them and rightly so –‘as nuns who support the nun who dared to complain repeated rape and sexual abuse.’
Sister Lucy became a target for disciplinary action after she joined the historic public protest for Mulakkal’s arrest, as she felt it her Christian duty to support a nun who was fighting a case of sexual abuse and rape — A nun who has got no support from those in positions of power within the Church hierarchy.
Sister Lissy on the other hand had a longer association with the survivor sister whom she first met way back in 2011 in Jalandhar (Punjab). And continued to counsel her once she shifted to Kuravilangad (Kerala), and felt compelled to share what was shared with her in confidence, an experience of unbearable sexual abuse, she felt compelled by her faith to stand for justice
The trajectory of their religious life has been poles apart, Sister Lucy has been a mathematics teacher, activist and poet, Sister Lissy on the other hand was a star evangelist and preacher of the Catholic Church. Sister Lucy’s articulation and method of engaging with her passion of working with people were constantly criticized for being out of step of the accepted congregational way of life of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation.
In Sister Lissy case, it was dramatically different — she had been a star of her congregation and of Church authorities because of her very powerful preaching skills. She was booked for retreats and meetings for months together.
Initially she was posted in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, where she learnt Telugu and came to be known for her strong oratory skills and preaching, going to far flung areas, where she was able to reach out to communities and localities that were often avoided by other evangelists. And those were places difficult to access both geographically and culturally. Her work was highly appreciated.
After many years of being constantly on the move, her health started failing and she asked to be moved back to her home state Kerala from Vijayawada. There was no change planned as far as her mission was concerned, only her place of stay. Thus she continued with her preaching and retreats.
The arrangement was that between her retreats, she could reside in the guest house in Muvattupuzha under the FCC Vijayawada congregation. Such breaks were short, often just a couple of days to rest and prepare for her next program. She had the full support of her congregation and Church authorities for her evangelizing work based out of Jyothi Bhavan for ‘almost 14 years’ until February this year.
It was only after it was known that she had given a witness statement in favor of the nun who complained of being repeatedly raped and abused by a bishop that her staying at Muvattupuzha was questioned and her mission work delegitimized.
The News Minute, a digital news portal, reported on this issue on February 22 this year, and I quote ” Two days after the Muvattupuzha police in Ernakulam registered a case against provincial superior Sister Alphonsa and three counselors of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation’s (FCC) Vijayawada convent, for wrongfully confining one of its members, Sister Lissy Vadakel, Sr. Alphonsa alleged, “Sister Lissy Vadakel had stayed in the guest house in Muvattupuzha under the FCC Vijayawada convent for the last 14 years. She was staying in the guest in her personal capacity and not for any work associated with the Vijayawada province. During her stay there, she had established a relationship with the nuns of the Kuravilangad convent and gave a statement to the police against Bishop Franco Mulakkal clandestinely,” reads the statement.”
The fact that Sister Lissy was based in Jyothi Bhavan Muvattupuzha for 14 years is correct. But to say that she was there for her personal gains, and ‘not for any work associated with Vijayawada Province’ is a completely false accusation.
In the case of Sr. Lucy’s case, allegations made against her in the first warning letter January 1 this year include:
1. She printed a book without the sanctioned support of her congregation.
2. She learnt driving and bought a car with her own salary and without the approval or support of her congregation.
3. Sharing messages on social media, and on television channels belittling Catholic leadership with false accusations
4. She was called for discussions several times, but did not cooperate.
But again, none of what she did seemed to really matter to the congregation before September 2018, when she joined the protest. Her first warning letter was issued on this January 1, while Sister Lissy got hers after February 20, when it became known that she had given a witness statement to the magistrate under section 164 to support the survivor nun’s claim of being sexually abused and raped.
The warning and dismissal letters to Sister Lucy refer to broken congregational rules and canon law. These can be interpreted and analyzed by experts in several ways. That said, the timing of these allegations make the canonical and congregational concerns sound unconvincing and fake.
What is clear is that if all the allegations made on both these sisters were genuine concerns of the FCC leadership, they should have warned and dismissed them much earlier — at least a couple of years back in Sister Lucy’s case and a decade back in Sister Lissy’s. The timing of the allegations leaves no doubt that the sisters are being targeted for their support to the nuns fighting the rape case.
(Anita Cheria is the director, OpenSpace, Bengaluru Area. She is also president of Cividep India, started in 2000 to empower workers and communities and to ensure that businesses comply with human and labor rights and environmental standards.)