By Nirmala Carvalho
MUMBAI, India (Crux)- A nun in India accusing a bishop of raping her says she wants “the Church to recognise that I was wronged.”
The nun – whose name has been withheld – accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016 at her order’s convent in Kuravilangad, in the southern state of Kerala – the heartland of Christianity in India.
She went to the police on June 29 with her accusations and submitted a 72-page statement.
Bishop Mulakkal vehemently denies the charges, and claims the nun is retaliating because he initiated an investigation against her for an affair she allegedly had with a married man.
The bishop was arrested on Sept. 21 after a months-long investigation and was released on bail Oct. 15.
He is Bishop of Jalandhar, in the northern state of Punjab, which is also the location of the motherhouse of the nun’s order, the Missionaries of Jesus.
However, the Kerala-born bishop often stayed at the nun’s convent in Kuravilangad when visiting Kerala.
This convent is the same one the nun is currently residing in, under police protection.
In an exclusive interview with Scroll.in – an online news portal – the accuser said she went to the police because, “No nun should ever have to go through this.”
The interview was conducted Nov. 13 and published Dec. 10. The website also interviewed several of the nuns who have been supporting her and are also living at the convent.
The 44-year-old nun had a simple answer to the question of why it took her so long to report her allegations.
“Because I was scrambling for support and initially found almost none,” she said.
She said she didn’t want to go to the police, but the Church did not help her.
“Even now, I maintain there should be an internal mechanism within the Church where we can complain,” she said. “That will ensure the Church does not face public humiliation.”
The Missionaries of Jesus have strongly supported Bishop Mulakkal, calling him “an innocent soul” and the allegations against him “baseless.” On Nov. 23 the head of the order even contacted the Kerala police suggesting the nuns – the accuser and her five supporters – be moved from the convent to a government facility.
The nuns are not allowed to leave the convent, which one of the accusing nun’s supporters said is like “living in captivity.”
“I had several moments when I asked God, why me?” the accuser told Scroll.in. “But, after a while, I realised God had chosen me as an instrument to ensure that nuns do not suffer this way in future.”
She said it was difficult for a nun to question a bishop.
“We are taught that questioning the bishop is akin to being satanical, so when I began resisting him, I thought I was evil,” the nun said.
Now she finds strength in the support she is getting from those around her, including the five nuns of her order who have stood by her side despite the objection of their order.
“She took keen interest in our well-being, physical and spiritual,” one told Scroll.in. “It is because she was such a kind soul that when she was wronged, we supported her wholeheartedly.”
Another told the website that Bishop Mulakkal last year tried to force her to sign a document denouncing his accuser.
“He repeatedly asked me to write that she was lying and that the rape charges were wrong,” she said. “That is when I decided that we cannot remain silent.”
Another supporter of the nun, Father Augustine Vattoly, has been warned by the Syro-Malabar Church to stop organizing a “dharna” – a form of sit-in protest – in support of the nuns.
“I am told that such actions by a priest will seriously injure the good of the Church in public and will cause scandal among the faithful,” said the letter by Bishop Jacob Manathodath, the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam.
“I strongly prohibit you from organising and attending dharna and similar activities. Disobedience will incur ecclesiastical actions as per norms of Church law,” said the letter obtained by the Financial Examiner.
In October, Cardinal Oswald Gracias – the president of India’s bishops’ conference – issued a statement saying he and Cardinal George Alencherry and Cardinal Basilios Cleemis met with three high-ranking Vatican officials about the Bishop Mulakkal case.
“We were assured that the Holy See is closely following developments and is awaiting the results of the police investigation. We reiterated our confidence in the judicial system of India, and trust that the full truth will emerge and justice will be done for all,” Gracias said.
On Sept. 20, Pope Francis temporarily relieved Bishop Mulakkal of his pastoral duties for the Diocese of Jalandhar, and appointed the retired auxiliary of Mumbai, Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias, apostolic administrator of the diocese.