The alleged sexual assault of a Kerala nun by Bishop Franco Mulakkal has stirred up a storm. While the bishop has been arrested, there is pressure on the Bishops’ Council to initiate a full-fledged internal probe in the issue.
ThePrint asks- Christian priests accused of rape: Isolated events or eroding credibility of Indian church?
I believe in Christ, but my belief in church has diminished
Author and former nun
There are two types of believers: blind believers, who believe in fictitious stories invented by the church authorities, and liberated believers. The latter are less in number, but after these cases of rape, the number of liberated believers has increased.
Blind believers still have faith despite the recent events. When I took my mother for Holy Mass recently, the church was full. Everybody present knew what the Bishop had done, but it did not deter them. There was no place to sit or stand in the church. These were the blind believers. I should, however, mention that for some, attending church is just a sign of social status.
There are people who want a renewal of the church, its practices and customs. They want it from their heart. However, it is not because of the followers that the church is now tarnished; it is because of the authorities. The followers are ashamed of the fact that the authorities are embroiled in such controversies and they want to make amends. However, that is not going to solve the problems of the church.
There is a need for cleansing the church and most people agree on this, even the blind believers. Jesus Christ is not the monopoly of the church. I am not bothered even if the church sends me away because I want to follow Christ. My faith in Christ is strong enough, but my belief in the church has diminished. I cannot further trust the church for good things to happen if this is their plight.
We should not smear entire church for acts of one bishop
Astrid Lobo Gajiwala
Member, national team, Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM) & Satyashodhak
It all depends on how you describe the word ‘church’. Unfortunately, many people identify only the bishops with the church.
For me, the rape survivor who fought for justice against all odds, is as much a part of the church as the accused bishop. All those who came out in support of her, especially those sisters from her congregation who risked so much to stand with her, are the church. This is the church I have faith in, the church that stands up for truth and justice, which is what being Christian is about. So, if you were to ask me if my faith in the church has diminished, my answer is an emphatic “No”. It has grown stronger. On the other hand, if you ask me if my trust in the bishops has diminished, I would say: yes. The bishops have lost their credibility with their silence.
I would say that these are individual cases and I am glad that survivors are finding the courage to come forward. However, while there are priests like this, there are many more who are faithful to their vocation. There were also priests who came out in solidarity with the protesting nuns. Some have published articles and open letters in support of the survivor. I would not like to smear the entire church or even the clergy because of this case.
The issue is not just about the bishop who raped a nun (that is something that can happen anywhere, not just in the church). It is also about how the church authorities responded. I expected them to take action in a timely fashion and a just manner.
The 160-strong bishops’ conference should have exercised its moral authority and asked the accused bishop to step down while the investigation was going on. Ultimately he did step down, but it was too late. The bishops should have started a preliminary inquiry simultaneously with the police investigation. They had a year to get their act together. I think they just did not believe the nun.
Hopefully, as a church we have all learnt from this experience. It remains to be seen now how the bishops will ensure the healing of the survivor nun and her supporters.
The church is experiencing a multiple organ failure
Former principal of St Stephen’s college
Of late, the faith and respect that people have in the church and the clergy has taken a severe beating. It is not just this episode, but several others spread over the years that have contributed to it, like the Sister Abhaya case 26 years ago and the many ‘suicides’ of nuns under suspicious circumstances. The inner rot has come to the fore. There is an incremental disenchantment with the church and its hierarchy.
In administrative contexts, the bishops say, “We are the church”, but when the church faces even trivial problems they say, “You are the church”. My understanding of the church is that it is a body of people who subscribe to the biblical doctrine and strive to live by it. The church is in serious disarray now, and this is not the question of random events making small dents. The church is in a state of multiple organ failure, so to speak. I would not have taken such a strong stand otherwise.
The nun-rape case was a ticking bomb waiting to explode. In my memoir titled On A Stormy Course, I have recounted my harrowing experiences. I was targeted by the church for wanting to lead an honest life and for refusing to aid and abet the corruption of the CNI bishop at the time in Delhi. The extent to which he and his collaborators went is unthinkable.
I believe that the media is failing the society. It does not follow up events to the truth in each case is established and made known to the public. In my own case, the truth about the dozens of controversies has not been brought to light by the media. Truth is the only antidote to corruption and crime.
May be an isolated incident, but high time church authorities respond
Parent of a nun
We are not worried about the students who are in different convents. In this particular case, we believe that the nun should get justice.
There may be other cases, which may have gone unreported, but this is a chance for others to come out let their voices be heard.
As far as we are concerned, the press statements made by the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council have not been supportive of the nun in this issue and our confidence levels have come down. The trust in Bishops has reduced. They are an authority in the Church and they should support the cause of justice, but they have not done so. They have not acted at the right time.
Our daughter, who is training to be a nun, is happy and we are sure about her condition. The foundation that she has been given is very strong, She is being trained to be strong and react at the right time and should stand for justice. We have full faith in her. Our daughter voluntarily made the decision to join the congregation. She had completed her B.Tech in civil engineering, worked for a year and before opting to become a nun.
As parents we are anxious, what if such a situation arises for our child too. But we believe that our child will be safe—we trust our God and the community she has joined. My wife was very worried when the issue broke out. Later, we realised that this may be an isolated case and we trust our child to be safe. I think the Bishop will be arrested soon and justice delivered.
Action should be taken immediately. Bishops and the church authorities should come out with a response on this issue and help raise the confidence of their believers.
Compiled by Rohini Swamy, associate editor at ThePrint.