Does the Catholic Church have a strange predilection for sex related misdemeanours and scandals? If not why does it remain silent apart from occasional apologetic proclamations from the Pope? If it does want to be on the right side of religious justice then the time for speaking up is running short in a case in India involving 5 nuns and rape allegations at the ‘Missionaries of Jesus’ Convent in Kerala, India.
A Mother Superior at the Convent made a police report in June 2018 alleging that Bishop Franco Mulakkal, Bishop of Jalandhar, raped her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. The Bishop was arrested, three months later, in September and granted bail. He is awaiting trial. Franco Mulakkal is the
first bishop in Indian Catholic history to be arrested over accusations of rape. Some accolade!
Five nuns who supported the alleged victim’s testimony staged a sit-in in protest at the police delay in taking action. As a result, these nuns now claim that they are being ‘punished’ for their actions. They have been asked to leave and have been assigned to other Convents but are resisting orders to do so. They are accusing the church of “taking vengeance for their public protests” .
On 3 January, Superior General Regina Kadamthottu of the Missionaries of Jesus Order wrote to one of the sisters, “You have chosen in your own individual capacity to support and pursue the legal battle in Crime no 746/2018 in Kuravilaangad police station. Our congregation does not want to make any sort of intervention in the due process of law and you shall be free to carry on the judicial process as and when required. You are urged not to make your legal obligation an alibi to compromise our affirmed religious vows and principles of community life,” .
Another nun was accused by the order of acting “against the principles of religious life” because she published poems, bought a car and took part in a protest against the alleged rapist, Franco Mulakkal, actions termed as ‘grave violations’. She was issued a notice to explain her behaviour at a hearing scheduled for 9 January but refused to appear, saying that she was busy.
In further twists, a key witnesses in the case, Father Kattuthara, was found dead in Jalandhar under mysterious circumstances in November. The Convenor of ‘Save Our Sisters’, the movement supporting the protesting nuns, has been removed from his post.
The Catholic Church has always been accused of taking the path of least resistance and it is beyond my understanding as a practising Christian Feminist as to why it hasn’t intervened in this case.
When a Nun is accused of a deeper religious violation for buying a car and writing poetry over protesting against the heinous crime of rape then there really is something gravely wrong with the way the Catholic Church views women, whistleblowing and gender justice.
In the meantime the Church Patriarchy continues to be supported to demand subservience and silence from the women while protecting the men. In a resolute fight back these nuns are showing that the #metoo movement is prepared to smash any cultural or religious barrier.
The patriarchy may seek ways to assert itself by relying on traditional structures of organised and respectable power, like religion, but feminists are prepared to meet them anywhere.