Kerala nuns continue protest seeking action against rape-accused Jalandhar bishop; allege top brass blocking inquiry
A nun from Kerala has accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar of raping her 13 times between May 2014 and September 2016.
Obedience is one of the three vows nuns take before they are ordained. On the occasion of Virgin Mary’s birthday on Saturday, 8 September, five nuns from the Missionaries of Jesus congregation under the Jalandhar diocese of the Latin Catholic Church defied this sacred vow.
The five nuns from the congregation’s convent in Kuravilangad in Kerala’s Kottayam district committed the ‘mortal sin’ to stage a protest against authorities of the Church and the police, alleging denial of justice to their fellow nun. This nun has been knocking on all doors for the past two years seeking action against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar, alleging that he raped her multiple times.
The nun has accused the bishop of raping her at the convent’s guest house 13 times between 6 May, 2014, and 23 September, 2016. While the numerous complaints she lodged with authorities of the Church, including Pope Francis himself, since September 2016 did not elicit any response, the police have been dragging their feet in the case for the past 75 days.
In Kuravilangad on Saturday, the five nuns sat near the office of the Ernakulam Range inspector general for three hours demanding Bishop Mulakkal’s arrest. Four of them continued their protest —spearheaded by the Joint Christian Council — on Sunday, too. Such a protest by nuns is believed to be the first in the history of the Catholic Church in Kerala.
“We have not received any response to our protest from either the Church authorities or the police. We have lost hope. Our last hope now is the judiciary. We are planning to take our plea to the high court,” said the rape survivor’s sister.
On 13 August, the high court had disposed of a petition seeking speedy investigation into the nun’s complaint, after the police claimed that the evidence they had was enough to implicate the bishop, and that they might arrest him after interrogation.
“The available evidence collected so far revealed that the accused bishop committed an unnatural offence and raped the nun repeatedly against the will and consent of the victim by abusing his dominance over her as the bishop of Jalandhar. The offence was committed after confining her in the guest room of the convent in Kuravilangad,” the police submitted in court.
However, the police made a volte-face the next day after the investigative team, led by the Deputy Superintendent of Police of Vaikom K Subhash, questioned the bishop in Jalandhar. The victim’s sister suspects that this could be due to intervention from higher authorities under pressure from the Church.
“We have come to know that there is a move to hand over the investigation to the Crime Branch. We suspect this is part of an attempt to torpedo the case. The current investigative team has collected all the evidence required to take the bishop into custody. But their hands are tied because of the top brass,” the nun alleged.
The Director General of Police of Kerala Loknath Behra has denied any decision to change the investigative team at the moment. He said that the Ernakulam inspector general, who is supervising the investigation, is satisfied with the inquiry.
“I have not reviewed the investigation. Therefore, I cannot say whether the bishop will be arrested and if so, when. The inspector general is reviewing the investigation, and he will make an appropriate decision at the appropriate time,” Behra said, when asked about the possibility of Bishop Mulakkal’s arrest.
The head of the investigative team said they had completed the inquiry and are awaiting directions for further action. When asked why he was not exercising his power as an investigative officer to arrest the accused bishop, the deputy superintendent of police said he had sought directions from his bosses because the case has inter-state connections.
“The incidents related to the case took place two to four years ago. There is no scientific evidence available to corroborate the charges. However, the other evidences we have collected are strong. I think they are sufficient to make a solid case against the bishop,” Subhash said.
The protesting nuns told reporters in Kuravilangad on Sunday that they had full faith in the current team investigating the rape case. However, they accused the director general of police and the inspector general of not giving the investigative team a free hand. They claimed this is part of a high-level attempt to save Bishop Mulakkal.
Advocate Indulekha Joseph of the Church Reform Movement said there was strong ground to believe that the police was giving the bishop and his supporters time to influence and intimidate the victim and witnesses in the case. She added that the strategy was to put maximum pressure on them to drop the case.
“Two nuns, who alleged sexual harassment by the bishop, quit the religious order, unable to bear the pressure. Another nun who supported us has been transferred to Bihar. The nun wanted to stay in Kerala as she has to support her widowed mother to take care of her mentally challenged brother. All those supporting us and their family members are also being harassed in one way or the other,” the victim’s sister said.
“My sister is under a lot of pressure now. The police have taken her statement 12 times. A local MLA has called her a prostitute. There was even a plot to kill her by dislodging the brakes of her bike. I don’t know how long she will be able to hold on,” she added.
Moreover, the rape survivor’s sister claimed that the Pala diocese of the Church, which gave the nuns pastoral care, has stopped the service. The priest deputed by the diocese to conduct the mass at the convent for four days a week has been withdrawn, she said, adding that they were able to attend a mass once a week only after a Franciscan priest volunteered to conduct the service on Sundays.
The protest by the nuns has angered the authorities of the Church. Binu Chacko of the Indian Catholic Forum accused the nuns of playing into the hands of those who are trying to put the Church in the dock with ulterior motives.
“It is highly unbecoming of the nuns to take part in the protest in their official habit. They have become tools in the hands of the enemies of the Church. They have done an unpardonable harm to the Church,” he said.
Felix J Pulludan, a member of the Joint Christian Council’s executive committee, said their fight was not against the Church but against those trying to destroy it with their wrong deeds. The fight will continue till the Church is purged of wrongdoers, he added.
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