MeToo in India: Catholic nuns stand with sister accusing bishop of rape

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The #MeToo movement has spread to the Catholic Church in India, where several nuns are rallying around a sister who accused a bishop of rape in the state of Kerala.

The case has stirred up bitter feelings in the southern Indian state, which is home to approximately 1 million Catholics.

The alleged victim’s supporters say the investigation into Bishop Franco Mulakkal, 54, has dragged on too long without an arrest. The nun has also endured a tide of insults since going public with her complaint in late June, including from one lawmaker who called her a “prostitute.”

READ MORE: Here’s what you need to know about the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal

The 44-year-old nun accused Bishop Mulakkal of raping and abusing her 13 times between 2014 and 2016, in a complaint filed with the Kottayam superintendent of police on June 27. She alleged the encounters happened on Mulakkal’s visits to the state from his diocese in Jalandhar, Punjab.

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The nun’s name has not been released.

Mulakkal filed a separate complaint with police four days earlier, on June 23. He alleged several nuns were out to harass and blackmail him after he disciplined one of them for her sexual behaviour. The complaint was filed under Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings,” Kottayam’s deputy superintendent of police told The News Minute in India.

An investigation is ongoing but no arrests have been made.

Bishop Franco Mulakkal is shown in this 2016 photo.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal is shown in this 2016 photo. Missionaries of Jesus

Seven nuns joined protests in Kerala over the weekend to demand Mulakkal’s arrest. Five of the nuns were from the alleged victim’s order, the Missionaries of Jesus. Mulakkal also belongs to the order.

“The church has not given us justice,” Sister Anupama MJ told the Times of India.

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“Neither have police or the government. We will fight. It was the church that forced us onto the streets.”

Anupama said she and her fellow sisters reported the alleged rapes to church officials, but no actions were taken.

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The Missionaries of Jesus called the allegations against Mulakkal “baseless” and said it “cannot crucify an innocent” in a statement issued Tuesday. The congregation also suggested that the nun was involved in an “illicit relationship.”

Mulakkal dismissed the accusations on Tuesday as a “conspiracy” concocted by several nuns with a vendetta against him.

PC George, an independent lawmaker in Kerala, attacked the alleged rape victim on Sunday.

“Is there any doubt that the nun is a prostitute?” he said to reporters. He also questioned why she didn’t come forward earlier.

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“I am ashamed of such lawmakers who are giving these statements instead of helping women,” said Rekha Sharma, of the National Commission for Women, in a statement addressing George’s comments.

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“This is absolutely shameful.”

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The alleged victim claimed in a letter to the Vatican that she tried to report the bishop to church officials before going to the police, The News Minute reported on Wednesday.

The Vatican has not responded publicly to the letter.

“What has happened is unusual. It does not happen in the Catholic Church,” Father Varghese Vallikkatt, of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council, told the Times of India on Sunday. Vallikkatt said the church has “enough forums” to deal with the situation. “If there is any truth to the allegations by the nun, then she should also receive justice from the legal system,” he said.

Nuns in several countries have recently come forward alleging abuse by members of the clergy. The Associated Press has identified several cases emerging in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia.

READ MORE: As nuns come forward with sexual abuse allegations, Catholic Church faces its own #MeToo moment

“I am so sad that it took so long for this to come into the open, because there were reports long ago,” Karlijn Demasure, one of the church’s leading experts on clergy sexual abuse, told the AP in July.

“I hope that now actions will be taken to take care of the victims and put an end to this kind of abuse.”

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Sisters who have been sexually abused often find it incredibly difficult to be taken seriously, Demasure said.

“[The priests] can always say, ‘she wanted it,’” he said. “It is also difficult to get rid of the opinion that it is always the woman who seduces the man, and not vice versa.”

The Vatican has been grappling with a wave of sexual assault allegations amid the #MeToo movement, and the devastating Pennsylvania grand jury report released last month.

READ MORE: Catholic priests sexually abused more than 1,000 children in Pennsylvania: report

Pope Francis strongly condemned the sexual abuse allegations and cover-ups included in the grand jury report.

“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” Francis wrote in a three-page letter issued last month.

“No effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated,” he said.

— With files from The Associated Press