ucanews.com reporter, New DelhiUpdated: July 16, 2018 06:57 AM GMT
Bishop Franco Mulakkal claims that a nun who accused him of rape fabricated the claim. (Photo supplied)
Leading Catholic figures and lay people have appealed to the Vatican to remove an Indian bishop facing allegations of raping a nun.
In two July 12 letters separately addressed to Indian Bishops’ Conference president Cardinal Oswald Gracias and to papal nuncio Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro, they asked for the removal of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar.
Police began to investigate Bishop Mulakkal after a Catholic nun, former superior of a diocesan congregation under the bishop, accused him on June 29 of raping her four years ago and then sexually abusing her 13 more times over the following two years.
The letter asked Archbishop Diquattro to "advise Pope Francis to relieve the bishop concerned of his pastoral responsibilities so that the church is seen to actually practice the zero tolerance it professes to observe in abuse cases."
The accused prelate continuing in his position as bishop of Jalandhar "will erode the faith of the people in the credibility of the church to implement its policy of zero tolerance and act justly in abuse matters," they said.
Bishop Mulakkal continues to tell media that the nun cooked up the sex stories. According to him, she went to police after church authorities began to take disciplinary action following allegations by the nun's cousin that she was having sexual relations with her husband.
The nun and her relatives claim church authorities have ignored their complaints against sex violations. They also say that at least 18 nuns have left a convent because of the bishop’s harassment.
The 168 leaders said they are "concerned about the mud-slinging" going on between the bishop and his priests on one side, and the nun and her family on the other, as it has "turned the church into an object of ridicule," causing "a lot of harm … to the faith of the people of God."
Signatories included leading figures from Indian Theologians Association, United Christian Forum, Indian Christian Women’s Movement, Women Theologians Forum, Women's Network for Solidarity and the Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace.
The letter said the "growing scandal and the adverse publicity" the church is receiving because of its handling of the sex allegation was also affecting the "integrity and the mission" of the church.
The letter addressed to Cardinal Gracias said the representations made by the nun to the bishops "have brought no response, raising issues about the credibility" of the bishops’ conference’s guidelines to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace released in 2017.
It requested the cardinal to ensure that dioceses "publicize and create adequate awareness" about the guidelines to sex violations and "institute the structures and procedures" to address such issues without further delay.
"At its root, sexual abuse is ultimately not about sexuality or celibacy, but about the gross misuse of the disproportionate power assigned to clergy," they observed.
Church leaders in India should not "take a silent or indifferent stand" on such violations because when "a man who represents God to people is a sexual offender, faith in the God he represents is shaken to the core," they observed.
"Pope Francis has shown the way by holding accused bishops accountable even at risk to the reputation of the church. We look to our bishops to follow his example."
Virginia Saldanha, a lay theologian, said the church has seen "a number of allegations of sex abuse of women by clergy." But the church leadership is reluctant to act on complaints, she said.
"In our society women are blamed for everything and even in this case the women face all sorts of allegations and accusations," she said.
She expressed admiration for the courage of the Jalandhar nun "to speak up against such injustice. This will be an eye opener to many others like her," Saldanha told ucanews.com.
Supreme Court lawyer Sister Jessy Kuriyan told ucanews.com that the correct legal position demands the bishop move away from his office of authority.
The accused bishop is the patron of the congregation to which the alleged victim belongs. If a member discloses a fact that would go against the interest of the accused, she may have to face dire consequences in the future, she said.
In order to help an impartial and independent investigation, the bishop should either resign or be suspended, Sister Kurian said.