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Indian nuns charged with confining rape witness

Nun claims she was held against her will but a regional superior has accused her of fabrication

Indian nuns charged with confining rape witness

Indian nuns and Muslim supporters demand the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who is accused of raping a nun, in a protest outside the High Court in Kochi in Kerala on Sept. 13, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Published: February 21, 2019 03:42 AM GMT

Updated: February 21, 2019 03:54 AM GMT

Police have charged four Indian Catholic nuns of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC), based in Kerala state, with wrongfully confining another nun who is a witness in an ongoing rape case against a bishop.

The police were acting on a complaint from Sister Lissy Vadakkel, who has made a deposition against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar in the rape case, that she was moved from her Kerala convent and confined in an FCC convent in Vijayawada, a town 1,000 kilometers away in Andhra Pradesh state.

Police have filed charges of "wrongful confinement" against the FCC's regional superior, Sister Alphonsa Abraham, and her three counselors based in Vijayawada.

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Sister Vadakkel's statement to police maintained that soon after she reached the Vijayawada convent her mobile phone was taken away and she was confined to a room for more than a month. She also said she was denied permission to visit her 90-year-old ailing mother, media reports said.

A family member, who filed a missing persons complaint with police last week, said Sister Vadakkel had been allowed no means to contact the outside world. "She was denied phones and could not even speak to her aged mother on her sickbed," the family member said.

The nun's brother, who asked not to be named, told ucanews.com that his sister "escaped" from the Viajyawada convent and arrived in Kerala on Feb. 16.

The complaint led to a court order that Sister Vadakkel not be transferred to any other FCC convents and that she have the freedom to spend time with her mother. Police were also asked to provide her with personal security.

However, regional superior Sister Abraham dismissed Sister Vadakkel's statement to police as "mere fabrication." She told ucanews.com that she heard about police charges against her from journalists. She also said that it was from the media she came to know about the claim that Sister Vadakkel had escaped after allegedly being detained against her will.

The senior nun said Sister Vadakkel, a member of Vijayawada province, has been working in Kerala for the past 14 years. She had refused transfer orders on three past occasions but convent authorities early this year reaffirmed the need for all members to follow transfer policies. She was asked to go to Vijayawada.

The superior maintained that the assertion of a month-long confinement was false as Sister Vadakkel reached Vijayawada only on Feb. 9 and on Feb. 16 they had traveled together to Kerala to visit her sick mother in hospital.

Sister Abraham said she did not know what had happened to suddenly cause so many allegations. She said her convent knew nothing about Sister Vadakkel's disposition to police in connection with Bishop Mulakkal.

Bishop Mulakkal's case emerged last July after a nun accused the Kerala native prelate of raping her several times from 2014-16. The alleged victim belongs to Missionaries of Jesus, a congregation that functions under the bishop, who is based based in northern India.

Meanwhile, the Save Our Sisters Action Council, an interfaith forum that helps nuns in distress, said Sister Vadakkel was experiencing "troubles" because she gave a statement to police against Bishop Mulakkal.

The forum described the treatment of Sister Vadakkel as an example of "concerted efforts to silence witnesses in the rape case."

Bishop Mulakkal has described the allegation against him as being part of a vendetta for him having acted against the nun for allegedly violating her religious vows, including that of chastity.


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