Kerala rape case: Sister Lucy, who protested against accused bishop, says sexual abuse is rampant in Church

Religious women, priests and laymen who supported a nun after she filed a police complaint of rape against Jalandhar ex-bishop Franco Mulakkal, are being systematically targeted by the Catholic Church in Kerala.

Nuns, who form the most vulnerable community in the Church, are facing most of this oppression. While five nuns who took to streets demanding the arrest of the bishop are being put under pressure and threatened, another nun who was an important witness in the case was harassed and tortured under wrongful confinement in a convent this wee. Another who participated in the protest has been served a canonical notice of expulsion from her Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC).

Sister Lucy Kalappura, who has been given time up to 10 March to give reasons not to initiate expulsion proceedings against her, is least deterred by the move. The 53-year-old nun, who works in a government-aided school under the management of the Mananthavady diocese in Wayanad district, talks about the reasons in this interview. Here are the edited excerpts of the conversation:

Why are you confident that the present move to oust you from the congregation will not succeed?

Because I have not done anything wrong. They cannot oust me for supporting a fellow nun while she was suffering physical, mental and spiritual pain and five of her colleagues came out on the streets demanding justice. The FCC authorities have, therefore, cooked up flimsy grounds by raking up old issues for proceedings against me. The charges they have levelled against me will not stand legal scrutiny. Therefore, I am not afraid of their moves.

Kerala rape case: Sister Lucy, who protested against accused bishop, says sexual abuse is rampant in Church

File image of Sister Lucy Kalappura. Image procured by TK Devasia

If you feel so, why do you think your superior general has served you with a canonical notice with a threat of dismissal from the congregation?

I think it is part of a larger plan by those supporting the bishop to intimidate the witnesses and silence those supporting the nuns. A similar warning was issued to priests and laymen, who came out in the open against the bishop. Many others are being harassed and tortured.

I feel this is aimed at torpedoing the case. I don’t know why the supporters of the bishop are resorting to these tactics if they believe that he is innocent. The case is in the court. The bishop will get ample opportunity to prove his innocence if he is really innocent.

Do you personally think the bishop is guilty of rape?

I do not know either the bishop or the nuns. I have not seen any of them before. I came to know about the incident only after I read in the media about the protest staged by the five nuns, who stayed with the rape survivor at the Kuravilangad convent at Kochi. Such a street protest by nuns was unprecedented in the history of Catholic Church. When the nuns resorted to such a protest, I believed that they had a strong reason to do so. I am not trying to judge anybody. Let the court bring out the truth.

Why did you then decide to join the protest?

There are thousands of nuns in the Catholic Church across India. I thought they will stand by the protesting nuns after they came out of their convent demanding justice. I felt they had a moral responsibility to listen to these nuns in their hour of crisis. When none came forward, I stepped out. I am an ordinary nun. I don’t have the power or resources to provide any material support to the protesting nuns. But I felt at least my presence would give them strength to continue their fight for justice. I will continue to support them as long as they fight for justice.

Has your decision got to do anything with similar sexual abuse you have faced while serving as a nun?

I have personally faced sexual advances not only from priests but also members of the laity, but I have not succumbed to them. At least two priests tried to sexually abuse me in my workplace. While I was teaching in a school in Rajasthan, the headmaster of the school, who was also a priest, made sexual advances against me when I approached him to clear a doubt in the subject I taught. I could overcome such advances as I held my vow of chastity strong. I could avoid similar situations later in life by keeping safe distance from such people.

Do you think sexual abuse is a serious issue in the Catholic Church?

Yes. Sexual abuse is rampant in the Catholic Church. It is hidden under the iron walls of the Church.

There are several nuns who are silently suffering the sexual exploitation. Many have told me about their experiences after I came forward to support the Kuravilangad nuns. The priests who preach the Ten Commandments in the Church violate them without any scruples.

Why is sexual abuse rising in the Church now?

I think it is because of the influence of materialism that is gripping the Church. It is running after money. The Church charges money for every sacrament and service it renders from poor and rich alike. Why does the church need so much money for its spiritual activities? The money is not used to help the poor and the needy as Jesus Christ taught, but to help priests and prelates to lead a luxurious life. The pursuit for luxury has been leading to corruption and other aberrations. There is no love left in the Church anymore.

Why do you think nuns are not coming out against the sexual exploitation they are suffering within the Church?

I think it is because of lack of financial independence. The nuns fear they may be ousted from the congregation if they speak out. Once they are ousted, they have nowhere to go and have no means to sustain their lives.

While they have surrendered their share of the family property after joining the religious order, whatever they earn from the job as a nun is taken away by the congregation.

They are totally dependent on their superiors for their personal needs. The nuns have to beg for money they need for even simple things like recharging a phone. Most often, these requests are not considered sympathetically. This forces nuns to seek support from outside the congregation. Since their immediate contact is a priest, many nuns approach them for money. Some priests misuse this opportunity. Thus, lack of financial independence not only forces them to suffer the abuses silently but also makes them vulnerable to abuses.

Can you blame the priests alone for the sexual abuse happening in the Church?

Certainly not. There are many among the nuns who seek sexual pleasure. This is because they don’t have the true religious calling. I cannot blame them because they have been pushed into religious life at a very young age. I don’t think any woman who has chosen religious life after attaining the age of maturity will break the vow of chastity. I have been, therefore, demanding raising the age of girls for entering the religious life from the present 15 to 21. This is one of the charges against me.

Have you chosen the religious path on your own volition?

I had felt the religious calling while I was studying in Class 10. However, I waited till I passed my pre-degree to enter the nunnery. I tried to sustain the calling by joining a Christian college and staying in a hostel run by the nuns while studying for pre-degree. My main motive behind the decision was to do good for the people. If I had chosen a married life, I thought I would not have been able to do things I wanted to because of family obligations.

Do you regret your decision in light of the several bitter experiences you have faced in your 33 years of life as a nun?

I have thought many times that I could do better by remaining outside the cloistered life. I chose the religious order as I wanted to do good for the people. But after joining the convent, I realised it was not easy. I needed permission from higher authorities for anything I wanted to do.

I have to beg them for money to even give alms to a beggar. I could do better as an ordinary woman.

I have seen many ordinary people doing a lot of good for the society. The nuns, on the other hand, are confined to the convents. Though many convents have large sums of money, they are not spent for the needy. In spite of this, I do not regret my decision to join the religious order. I am fully satisfied because I have not allowed anybody to subjugate me, any pain to tire me and no regulations to enslave me. Therefore, I have no prick of conscience. I am holding my head high.

What is the message you have for fellow nuns?

I love all my fellow nuns. What I have to tell them is that we are not supposed to remain subjugated. We are entitled to get all reasonable benefits which the priests get. We should get happiness and satisfaction within the convent. We should fight for financial freedom so that we can help a poor person we come across the society without going through the rigorous process of seeking permission from the authorities.

We should not need permission to do good for the people. We should not bow down to the priests. If any of the nuns find chastity difficult to observe, they should quit the order and lead a married life instead of violating the vow.

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Updated Date: Feb 21, 2019 18:32:08 IST

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