Kerala nun rape: Activists term dismissal of Sister Lucy desperate attempt to save Franco Mulakkal, say it is meant as warning to witnesses

Kerala nun rape case: Reformists in the Syro-Malabar Church see the dismissal of Sister Lucy Kalappura from the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC) as part of a desperate attempt to save Franco Mulakkal, who is accused of repeatedly raping a nun between 2014 and 2016

TK Devasia August 07, 2019 22:20:19 IST
Kerala nun rape: Activists term dismissal of Sister Lucy desperate attempt to save Franco Mulakkal, say it is meant as warning to witnesses
  • Sister Lucy Kalappura, one of the nuns who had participated in the protest against rape-accused bishop Franco Mulakkal, has been dismissed from the Franciscan Clarist Congregation

  • Leaders of various constituents of the Kerala Church Act Action Council view the action as a warning to the witnesses in Kerala nun rape case

  • In the past, Mulakkal's supporters had tried to dissuade Sister Lisy Vadakayil, a nun to whom the rape survivor had first confided about the rape

  • When they failed in their attempt, the nun was locked up and tortured in a convent at Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district

  • Activists suspect that torture is likely to be the cause of the death of Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, another key witness in the case

The dismissal of Sister Lucy Kalappura, who participated in the Kerala nuns’ protest against rape accused Franco Mulakkal, a former bishop of Jalandhar, from the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC), has become a rallying point for reformists in the Syro-Malabar Church, an eastern Catholic major archiepiscopal church based in Kerala.

While the 53-year-old nun, who lives in a convent under the Mananthawady diocese of Syro-Malabar Church in Wayanad district, has vowed not to move out and to fight her case legally, various groups fighting for reforms within the church have decided to support her and intensify their struggle against church officials.

Kerala nun rape Activists term dismissal of Sister Lucy desperate attempt to save Franco Mulakkal say it is meant as warning to witnesses

File image of Sister Lucy Kalappura. ANI

The Kerala Church Act Action Council, a confederation of about 20 organisations demanding the transfer of temporal powers of the church from bishops to the laity, will convene a meeting later this week to discuss a course of action. Council chairman George Joseph said that they will lend all support to Sister Lucy in her legal battle against the congregation.

He said that Sister Lucy was dismissed at the behest of church officials as part of a desperate attempt to save Mulakkal, who is accused by a nun from Kuravilangad in Ernakulam district of repeatedly raping her between 2014 and 2016.

The bishop, who was arrested in September following an unprecedented street protest spearheaded by five nuns living with the rape survivor in the convent, is currently out on bail. The dismissal of Sister Lucy has come just days before the commencement of the trial in the case.

Leaders of various constituents of the Kerala Church Act Action Council view the action as a warning to the witnesses in the case and those supporting the rape survivor. Earlier, the supporters of the bishop had tried to silence the five nuns supporting the rape survivor by offering them land and money to set up a separate convent in their home state.

When this failed they tried to threaten and intimidate the nuns and their supporters. Sister Lucy was one among many who supported the rape survivor.

The major charges that were levelled against Sister Lucy to dismiss her from the congregation by FCC superior general Ann Joseph on 5 August are: violation of dress code, the publication of a book, purchase of a car, learning driving, obtaining driving licence and participation in the nuns' protest without the permission of the authorities.

"The FCC authorities had not initiated any action when the nun committed most of these 'offences'. They raked up these issues only after they became aware that another nun from Vijayawada was listed as a key witness in the case," says Shaiju Antony, a convenor of Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency.

He said that Mulakkal's supporters had tried to dissuade Sister Lisy Vadakayil, a nun to whom the rape survivor had first confided about being sexually harassed by the accused, from deposing against him. When they failed in their attempt, the nun was locked up and tortured in a convent at Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district.

She was released and a case was registered against the convent authorities only after the court intervened, Shaiju pointed out.

Activists like Shaiju also suspect that torture is likely to be the cause of the death of Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, another key witness in the case. Father Kuriakose had died under mysterious circumstances in a church under the Jalandhar diocese. The case is now under the investigation of the Punjab Police.

Shaiju said that the dismissal of Sister Lucy could be a clear message to Sister Lisy to not speak against the bishop when the case is taken up for trial in the next few days. The church activist claims that the actions taken against the supporters of the rape survivor could also mean to send a message to those demanding the transfer of temporal powers of the church from the bishops to the laity.

The demand for power transfer had gained momentum after the sale of several parcels of prime land in Kochi at below the market price by the head of the church and major Arch Bishop Cardinal George Alencherry in violation of the rules and guidelines, resulting into a loss of Rs 63 crores to the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese.

Alancherry was removed from his post after a section of believers and priests alleged corruption in the transaction. The Vatican had appointed a Palakkad bishop as apostolic administrator last year with a mandate to resolve the issue within a year.

However, much to the chagrin of the reformists, the Vatican reinstated Alencherry and suspended two auxiliary bishops without even completing the investigation. Leaders of the Kerala Church Act Action Council claim that action was also taken against Sister Lucy — 12 days before the meeting of the bishops’ synod called to discuss the issue — to send a message to the priests and members of the laity who are demanding an investigation into the dubious land deal and removal of the cardinal.

The Church was rattled when over 150 priests in the archdiocese organised an indefinite hunger strike in the last week of June in support of these demands. The strike was called off after mediators assured to place the demand before the synod meeting from 19 August and find a solution.

These scandals have left the church's five million followers divided. While some are some still hoping for a lasting solution from the Vatican and restoration of peace in the church, many have lost faith in the Vatican after it reinstated the cardinal and gave a green signal to the FCC decision to dismiss Sister Lucy.

The church followers fear that the action against Sister Lucy may aggravate the ongoing tussle between the church authorities and the dissidents.

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