Prominent Indian social activist Swami Agnivesh has sought the intervention of Pope Francis to help five nuns who are facing a church backlash after holding a public protest demanding action against a bishop accused of raping a nun. Agnivesh, who on Jan. 23 released his detailed letter to the pope, told ucanews.com that the church's moves against the nuns were "in effect a punishment given to them for speaking the truth." The leader of the Arya Samaj Hindu sect was referring to a case involving Missionaries of Jesus nuns in the southern state of Kerala. Four nuns, all Kerala natives, came from different parts of India to support their former superior, who filed a police complaint last June accusing Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar of raping her multiple times between 2014 and 2016. In September, the four joined another nun from the congregation's Kerala convent and held a two-week street protest
that ended on Sept. 22, a day after the bishop was arrested. They have been staying in Kerala ever since. The congregation's current superior recently asked the four nuns to return to their respective convents
. The nuns alleged it was a tactic to break their unity and weaken the case against the 54-year-old bishop. The other nun, Sister Neena Rose, has been asked to report to the congregation's headquarters in Jalandhar and meet superior general Regina Kandamthottu on Jan. 26. Agnivesh, a 79-year-old Hindu scholar known for his stand against India's governing pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said the nuns were being harassed for their stand for justice. Expressing confidence in Pope Francis' "robust sense of justice," he said he wanted the pope's intervention to end the harassment. His letter said it was "indeed shocking that, while the concerned diocese and its religious orders go easy on the alleged rapist, it is targeting those who stood and struggled for justice for the victim." Agnivesh told ucanews.com that if "justice isn't given to the victim and those nuns supporting her, then I will go to Rome myself and meet the pope in person." He said that Catholic nuns are much respected in Indian society and he will "mobilize more support in favor of the nuns' continued protest until justice is given to the nuns." The Catholic clergy needs a serious overhaul in India as there are some bishops who have amassed huge wealth and are acting as dictators, he said. "There are houses of profit being run by prelates in various parts of the country that are violating the norms of the Catholic Church. As a human being and as a citizen of the country, I have every right to act as a whistleblower," Agnivesh said. However, Christian groups have objected to Agnivesh's letter to the pope, stating that the Hindu leader has been unnecessarily interfering in the church's internal matters.
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"Agnivesh is writing to Pope Francis about something that doesn't come under his domain," said Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum. He said the rape case has gone to court while the relocation of nuns is entirely an issue within the congregation. "Why is the Hindu priest trying to correlate them both?" he asked. As the Catholic Church doesn't interfere with the working of religions including Islam and Hinduism, its system of functioning shouldn't be interfered with either, Dias said. Bishop Mulakkal was bailed by a Kerala court
on Oct. 15 and returned to Jalandhar in the northern state of Punjab. He has consistently denied all the allegations and claimed that the nun is taking revenge against him for initiating disciplinary action against her violation of her religious vows of obedience and chastity. The Vatican removed Bishop Mulakkal from administrative duties of his diocese and appointed an administrator in September.