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Kochi: Nuns protest against the delay in action against Roman Catholic Church Bishop alleged accused of sexually exploiting a nun in Kochi, Saturday, Sept 08, 2018. (PTI Photo)

Beset with allegation of sexual abuse of minors by its clergy from around the world, Catholic Church is facing an unprecedented protest in Kerala, India. A group of nuns are on a week long protest in Kochi demanding justice for a fellow nun who was raped by the Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal. It’s the first time in the history of Catholic Church that nuns are protesting in the street demanding action against a Bishop.

A nun belonging to the Catholic congregation of Missionaries of Jesus in Jalandhar filed a police complaint against bishop Franco Mulakkal on June 27 this year accusing the clergyman of sexually assaulting her over a period of two years starting in May 2014.

Accusing the bishop of sending lewd messages and obscene pictures over the phone, the nun said she had also informed Cardinal George Alancherry, the head of the Kochi-based Syro-Malabar Church about the alleged abuse. Alencherry has claimed that the nun had talked about the “torture” at the congregation, but did not mention sexual abuse. As the Church took no action, the nun approached the police.

After her allegations became public, others came forward saying the bishop, who hails from Kerala, had forced at least 18 inmates to quit the order. The family of the nun has maintained that despite a complaint to the Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto, nothing was done. An FIR was registered against the bishop on June 28 and a detailed 114-page statement was recorded of the nun and other inmates of the convent.

The nun made the complaint only after Mullackal went to the police claiming the alleged victim and five other nuns were harassing and blackmailing him. He denies the rape accusations and says the alleged victim has a vendetta against him.

Bishop Franco Mulakkal

The police questioned bishop Franco Mulakkal for nine hours on August 14 in connection with allegations of rape levelled against him and left without arresting him.

When asked why Mulakkal was not arrested, the team head, DSP K Subhash, said the senior priest had “cooperated” during questioning and that they would return to Bishop’s residence “if required”.

“We have been knocking on the doors of the church and the government. There is nobody to help us in our cause,’’ said Sister Anupama, one of the nuns who is participating in the protest.

The protest was called due to the fact that since the case was registered months back, the police had taken 12 statements from the victim but only one from the accused bishop.

The nun on September 11 wrote a letter to the Vatican representative in India seeking justice.

In a letter dated September 8, the nun alleged the bishop coveted nuns.

“Whichever sister Franco felt attracted to, he tried to put them in trap by force or taking advantage of their weakness,” the letter said. She also alleged that the bishop was using “political and money power” to bury the case and sought his removal.

The Kerala High Court asked the police to reveal the steps taken in the investigation so far. The court also sought to know what the government was doing to ensure the security of the victim and the nuns who were supporting her.

The case has exposed deep ruptures inside Kerala’s Roman Catholic church, whose adherents numbered close to 1 million according to the most recent census in 2011. The southern state has one of the largest Christian populations in India and one of the oldest in the world.

The Church is facing trial by fire due to sexual allegations against the clergy from all parts of the world.  Pope Francis has called a synod of Bishops to discuss the issue. He should not call the Bishop Franco Mulakkal to the synod. Catholic Church should form an internal enquiry into the allegations against the Bishop as well as cooperate with the criminal case filed against him.  The law should take its own course and the victim should get justice.