The alleged rape of a nun in Kerala by the Bishop of Jalandhar, Franco Mulakkal, between 2014 and 2016, is no longer seen as just another criminal case but symptomatic of all the ills that plague the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, having vested its administrative, monetary and spiritual powers with the clergy, have created Franco-nstein like monsters, that it has no control over. With no accountability to anyone but themselves, many in the clergy have become morally corrupt and power-hungry. Pope Francis’s strongly worded statements against sexual exploitation go unheeded. So, the five nuns taking to the streets of Kochi in their religious garb, for the first time in India, crying for justice and calling for the arrest of Bishop Mulakkal, is seen as a fight of the meek and pious against the rich and powerful clergy: a David and Goliath moment. With a few in the clergy and sections of laity lending their support to the protests the church seems to be cleaving down the middle threatening to shake its very foundations.
The Nuns’ protest organised by the Joint Christian Council (JCC is a federation of Christian organisations seeking reformation in the church) has the burgeoning support of large sections of Kerala public too. The nun, from the Missionaries of Jesus, had filed a police complaint in June this year after the church failed to act following her complaint letter to the papal diplomat Apostolic Nuncio Giambattista Diquattro and to the different prefectures in the Vatican. The police, after filing an affidavit with the court confirming rape, are yet to arrest the Bishop. 19 priests (15 from Syro-Malabar and 4 from Marthoma denominations) had come to the protest-meet to support the nuns. Though they have not expressed themselves openly, the rape survivor’s letter to the Nuncio asking for justice, mentions the names of Bishops and “the love and concern of my sisters and the prayers and advise of few bishops and many priests”. Though the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church has reached endemic proportions with a case propping up every few months, the CBCI and the cardinals failed to do anything.
One of priests at the protest, Fr Benny Maramparambil, had called for an urgent reformation in the church and greater transparency. The JCC supporting the protest too feel that it is high time the church is more accountable to the people. Says Lalan Tharakan, state JCC president, “If anyone questions the church authorities then the bishop or the parish priest has the power to throw them out. So, everyone is afraid to question the clergy while they carry on their immoral and corrupt activities.” But interestingly, the former secretary to Cardinal Mar George Allencherry, Fr Tony Kallookaran and the former spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Catholic church, Fr Paul Thelakkat were present at the protest venue.
Fr Paul Thelakkat, had admonished this correspondent in 2012, for an Outlook cover story on the Catholic church. In an email, he said, “Any religious community needs much-needed reforms but the reformation your periodical suggests is consumerist market hedonism. No Christian will consider your article a thing of any worth when we think of reformation and renewal. You may get people of the same feather who see nothing good in the church except power and money. Did it ever come to your mind that no honest media in Kerala took these issues of sex allegations seriously? You are trying to make a mountain out a molehill.” Much water has flown since then and nuns’ protest makes it to the front pages and primetime channel discussions everyday. Fr Thelakat too, after years of defending the church, is now asking for greater reforms.