Kerala: Arrested Bishop (Bishop Franco Mullackal) accused of raping a nun in India
Months after the division broke out in the Catholic community in southern India following a new case of sexual abuse, Bishop Franco Mullackal, accused of rape by a nun, was arrested on Thursday. Police question the suspect while the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) has announced his temporary release as head of the diocese of Jalandhar, in the State of Kerala, at the request of the accused.
“Having considered all the circumstances, the Holy Father accepts the request of Franco Mullackal,” reads the letter sent to the Bishops’ Conference. The response is atypical since the Vatican does not usually announce temporary suspensions, but permanent resignations accepted by the Pope, but this decision comes after two weeks of protests and after social groups sent a letter to the nuncio in India and also to Francisco criticizing the “appalling” situation caused by the violation of the nun in the heart of the Church of Kerala, where there are a million faithful.
In June, a nun from the Congregation of the Missionaries of Jesus filed a complaint with the police in Kuravilangad, a city with a Catholic tradition close to the state capital, Cochin. In it, the religious accuses Bishop Franco Mullackal, 53, of raping her repeatedly between 2014 and 2016. The bishop denied the accusations and said she was the victim of a harassment campaign; all this divided the Catholic community into a State with 19% of the Christian population.
The congregation to which they belong complainant and denounced doubted the version of the nun, accusing her of promiscuity and revealing her identity in local media, which is punishable by Indian law. Meanwhile, the president of the United Christian Council, George Joseph, supported the complainant and criticized the inactivity of the authorities. Until Thursday, the police had not made any arrests despite having 81 witnesses and two testimonies that contradicted the bishop’s alibi, according to The Washington Post .
The delayed police action caused protests and public support from five other nuns in the congregation. The demonstrations extended beyond Kerala and, last week, members of women’s rights groups based in Bombay sent a letter to the highest levels of the clergy. The letter, signed by members of the Zero Tolerance Campaign and Safecity, denounced the congregation of the Missionaries of Jesus and his crusade of “discredit to the victim due to the oppressive patriarchal mentality”, criticizing that a local lawyer publicly called the nun a prostitute. “In his papal letter of August 20, 2018, his holiness has unconditionally condemned the sexual abuse of the clergy and has qualified as a crime any attempt to cover up,” reads a letter to Pope Francis.
“We sent the letter because we are Catholics, feminists and gender activists, silence was not an option, we had to show solidarity with the nun,” Elsa Marie D’Silva, director of Safecity, explains to EL PAÍS. For his part, Ruben Mascarenhas, coordinator of the Zero Tolerance Campaign, accuses the clergy of Kerala of seeking religious confrontation: “The bishop played the communal card [concept used in South Asia to refer to the differentiation of ethnic identities and religious to encourage violence between them] when his resignation was requested, which is very dangerous “. The so-called ‘communalism’ in India causes continuous conflicts between different religious communities , mainly Hindu and Muslim.
The Christian community of Kerala is shocked. The arrest of the Catholic bishop joins the accusation of rape against four other priests of the Orthodox Church of Siro-Malankara, of the same State. Reports of sexual abuse have multiplied in India , considered the most dangerous country in the world for women , but it is the first time that their Church has been plagued by cases of violations. This crisis of the clergy coincides with the steps taken by the Pope to tackle the scandals of child abuse in the United States and Germany. The pontiff has convened the episcopal presidents around the world in February 2019 in an unprecedented decision.