Seven nuns gathered in a public square in Kochi on Saturday to protest how both police and the Church have responded to one nun’s accusation that a bishop raped her in 2014 and sexually abused her multiple times over two years.
Three more women have accused the bishop in recent days of sexual misconduct against them, but the congregation’s superior general maintains that the bishop is innocent.
“The Church has not given us justice. Neither have the police or government. So, we will fight. We feel that it was the Church which forced us onto the streets,” Sister Anupama of the Missionaries of Jesus, one of the protesters, told the Times of India Sept. 8.
A nun of the congregation has said that Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jullundur raped her during his May 2014 visit to her convent in Kuravilangad, in Kerala state. In a 72-page complaint to police, filed June 29, she alleged that the bishop sexually abused her more than a dozen times over two years.
Bishop Mulakkal has claimed the allegations were made in retaliation against him because he has acted against the nun’s sexual misconduct, the bishop told UCA News. He said the nun was alleged to be having an affair with her cousin’s husband.
Sister Anupama told the Times of India that “many times the sister was sexually abused by Bishop Mulakkal and we had reported it to the Nuncio; they didn’t even send an acknowledgement on receiving our complaint. We also reported directly to Rome but even they haven’t responded.”
Five members of the Missionaries of Jesus protested on Saturday outside the Kerala High Court: Sister Anupama, Sister Neena Rose, Sister Ancitta, Sister Josephine, and one whose name was unmentioned because she is the natural sister of the alleged victim. They were joined by Sister Teena Jose and Sister Annie Jaise, who are members of a different congregation.
The protest was organized and supported by ecumenical groups, and friends and relatives of the alleged victim participated. Several priests and more nuns joined the protest the following day.
The News Minute reported that the Missionaries of Jesus are supporting Bishop Mulakkal. The congregation is based in the Diocese of Jullundur, and Bishop Mulakkal is its patron.
The news outlet said the congregation issued a statement Monday stating: “We condemn the act by the sisters of our congregation who are protesting outside the High Court. As far as our congregation is concerned, we are ashamed and saddened by this protest.”
“Our consciousness does not allow us to stand with the victim and the sisters who are supporting her in order to crucify an innocent man … Our sister claims that the Bishop raped her on May 5, 2014 but even after that, there has been instances when the sister herself invited the Bishop for her various family functions which the Bishop had attended.”
The Missionaries of Jesus’ statement said the protesting nuns of the congregation do not belong to the Kuravilangad convent, and are protesting with the help of external forces: “This is evident from the various banners that are seen at the protest tents.”
It added, “We would like to warn all the cultural and political leaders who are coming out in support of the five sisters to be careful about not being cheated by them.”
Sister Anupama told The News Minute that “This is extremely painful that this support for the bishop has come from the community of nuns,” but she does not believe the statement was written by the superior general of the congregation. “The Missionaries of Jesus obeys what the bishop says, they would just sign at the place where he would want them to,” she charged.
Father Varghese Vallikkatt, deputy secretary general of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, told the Times of India that the public protest “is unusual … if there is any truth in the allegations, there are enough forums within the Church to raise complaints. If there is any truth in the allegations by the nun, then she should also receive justice from the legal system. In the case of action within the Church, if she has given a complaint to the concerned forum, then I am sure that an investigation would be going on.”
A police official, K Subash, told the Times of India that “we need to be sure before taking a step further,” such as arresting Bishop Mulakkal. “During the last review meeting, IG Vijay Sakhare raised a few doubts and at least a couple more of them needs to be sorted out. We will report back to him as soon as that is done. Though an arrest is inevitable in similar cases, we are not rushing it for the sake of the credibility of the case itself.”
Bishop Mulakkal has claimed that he has been threatened and blackmailed by the nun’s family.
Fr. Peter Kavumkal, vicar general of the Jullundur diocese, told UCA News that the nun’s congregation had planned to dismiss her July 2.
“It is all planned and timed to blackmail the bishop from taking punitive action against her,” the priest charged, claiming that the diocese went to police first.
Fr. Kavumkal filed a June 22 complaint in both Punjab and Kerala, charging blackmail and threatening the life of the bishop.