Life has not been easy for the five nuns from Kerala who had protested against the inaction of the Church and police authorities in the aftermath of rape allegations against Bishop Franco Mullackal. The Missionaries of Jesus had asked the four nuns, Sister Anupama, Sr. Alphy, Sr. Josephine, and Sr. Ancitta to comply with a transfer order which was issued earlier and to move out of the Kottayam mission where they were residing to different places. Sr. Neena Rose who was staying with the survivor nun has now been issued transfer order and is asked to report to the Superior General of Jalandhar on January 26th,. All of them have refused to comply with the order and is staying together with the survivor.
In September, the five nuns from the Missionaries of Jesus mission had staged an indefinite hunger strike near the Kerala High Court premises in Kochi for weeks under the banner ‘Save our Sisters’. They demanded the arrest of Bishop Mullackal who is accused by the nun from the same missionary several times between 2014 and 2016. The protest was called off only after the arrest of the Bishop and his removal from his post as Bishop of the Jalandhar diocese in Punjab. He was arrested and was in jail for three weeks until he got bail.
These protests had begun a movement in the Catholic church history which have been silencing many sexual harassment cases all over the world. However, the situation of the nuns and the priests who participated in the protests are getting worse day by day as they are facing pressure and mental harassment from the church authorities.
Though the Church had removed him from his duties, the leadership have been backing him throughout.
Though the Church had removed him from his duties, the leadership have been backing him throughout. He was even given a warm welcome by church members after he returned to Punjab on bail. The protest by the nuns were seen by the Catholic church as a protest against and denial of their authority. It is clear from the letters and transfer orders issued to the protesting nuns.
Earlier in this January, Sister Lucy Kalapura, one of the main participants in the protests, was given a warning with the threat of dismissal by the Catholic Church for “attending channel discussions”, writing articles in ‘non-Christian newspapers’ without the permission of the superior, and for making ‘false accusations’ against the church leadership. The warning letter said that the act of the nun was of “most grave scandal and harm to the Church”. The nun was even accused of ‘offences’ like publishing a book of poems, learning to drive and obtaining a driving license. She was asked to come in person and to ‘rectify her faults’. Sr. Neena Rose was accused of ‘rebellious attitude’ and of displaying refusal to be part of community and religious life of the convent.
According to Sister Anupama, “This is an attempt to split and destabilise us emotionally. No guarantee that people who aren’t protecting us here will give us protection at other places like Bihar or Punjab.”
Bishop Mullackal had accused the survivor nun of charging false cases on him for personal vendetta.
The nuns along with the survivor had written a letter to the Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan after they received reminder notices to comply with the transfer order. The letter sought for his intervention to ensure their transfer orders were not affected. They appealed to make sure that they lived in the present convent until the case trial is over. The letter also said the rape accused Bishop Franco is powerful and they are threatened by him who still lives under the protection of the Church. The nuns also wrote how they deprived of means to live as they have no income.
Sexual harassment cases in Church have been silenced for long in India as well as in other parts of the world. Most of the times issues and complaints are resolved within the church authorities and proper justice is not meted out. Women believers. Nuns and even children have been victims in these cases. Last year, the Malankara Orthodox church in Kerala, a man alleged that five priests had sexually abused and blackmailed his wife for several years using her confessions. In this case as well as the nun case, the complaints were first lodged with the Church authorities. The issues came out in the public only after the survivors moved to the police as there were no adequate action take by the church authorities.
In most of the sexual harassment cases and #MeToo posts, victim blaming and harassment continue especially when the accused is a powerful person. Even in the above case, Bishop Mullackal had accused the survivor nun of charging false cases on him for personal vendetta. The nuns who stood against injustice were never supported by the authorities and were further harassed through official actions against them.
Sexual abuse and harassment in any form is about power. The Church which runs on a hierarchical patriarchal power structure where bishops and priest are in authority and there is a culture of obedience. There are higher chances of them using this power over others who serve them. Thus sexual harassment cases cannot be resolved within the walls of church.
In the US, authors and activists, Belinda Bauman and Lis Sharon began the #silenceisnotspiritual. Their statement says, “We are calling churches to end the silence and stop all participation in violence against women…There is no institution with greater capacity to create protected spaces for healing and restoration for survivors”. It is high time women and other believers across the world understand that silence is not spiritual and voice it out.
Featured Image Source: Times of India