The arrest of rape accused bishop raises questions over principle of celibacy that the priests are expected to observe, reports SARRAH

Of late, a chorus was growing to arrest Bishop Franco Mulakkal with nuns taking to streets questioning who is shielding the alleged rapist. An FIR had been registered against the Catholic Bishop of Jalandhar long back on June 28 after a nun belonging to the order of Missionaries of Jesus alleged that the Bishop raped her 13 times since 2014.

In a letter to the Vatican’s India representative, the nun had alleged that the bishop was using all the money and power at his disposal to derail the case and buy his way out of the charges. The victim had also sought help of Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto and George Alencherry, head of the Kochi-based Syro-Malabar Church.

While Bishop Mulakkal had been shaming the victim on national television channels and newspapers making allegations against the victim and maligning her reputation. An MLA from Poonjar, PC Geroge had also made deplorable comments about the nun saying that “if it was rape why she failed to lodge a complaint the first time?”

The Missionaries of Jesus Congregation instead of supporting the nun, supported the bishop and alleged that the nun had “questionable relations with a local taxi driver and with a relative’s husband’’. In fact, it was not a complaint by one nun but four more nuns had alleged that Bishop touched them inappropriately, took advantage of his position and hugged forcefully.

Many who have been watching the Church closely believe that the nuns’ agitation has done an irreparable damage to the reputation of the Church and its credibility amongst believers and common men had nosedived. There are conflicting views. Some point out that this will help lead the Church to greater liberation, purification and moral integrity.

Will the struggle open the doors for discussions based on the social doctrine of the Catholic Church and trigger a rethink on the patriarchal mindset that ruled the Church? Is Bishop bigger than law of the land? Forget the police, even the Church had refused to take action, thereby, rendering its credibility to doubt. It is only when pressure mounted on the bishop and police that he was questioned and finally arrested.

The jury is open because even Muslim women with head scarves came in open support of the agitation by nuns. Thus, making it a bigger issue of women. The impact of the nuns’ agitation on the Church is immense as there are around 30,000 nuns in Kerala alone. The struggle has opened the doors for transformation of structures and mindsets.

However, it is time for introspection by the clergy and the Church administration. It is moment of truth as credibility of Church is at a stake because instead of supporting the aggrieved nun, the Church supported the Bishop. Not only that, the nuns had to resort to strike and protests in streets when clergy failed to respond to her calls for action against the bishop. It is not only a moment of truth for the Church but a question of restoring credibility of this religious institution.