Weeks after the Vatican acted against Cardinal George Alencherry for his alleged role in an illegal land deal, the Catholic church in Kerala has been rattled by allegations of rape against a bishop.

On June 27, a 46-year-old nun complained to the police that Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar had raped her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. The nun is a member of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation based in Jalandhar, Punjab, but it runs two convents in Kerala, one in Kuravilangad in Kottayam and the other in Pariyaram in Kannur.

The alleged victim was associated with one of the convents. She alleged the bishop raped her in the convent. The visitors’ diary at the convent shows the bishop was there on the days on which the alleged rape took place.

Mulakkal denied the allegations. He claimed the nun was taking revenge on him for ordering an inquiry against her. “I got a complaint from a woman alleging that the nun was having an affair with her husband,” he said.

Apparently to preempt the nun’s allegation, the public relations officer of the Jalandhar diocese, Peter Kavumbatt, had filed a complaint with the Kottayam Superintendent of Police Hari Sankar on June 21, claiming four nuns from his congregation and their relatives were plotting to kill Mulakkal.

Sankar said the police are investigating both complaints. “Cases have been registered on the basis of the complaint filed by the nun alleging rape against the bishop and the another compliant against the nun and her accomplices for threatening to kill the bishop,” he said.

On Thursday, the nun recorded her statement before a judicial magistrate in Kottayam, reiterating her allegations. She also gave the police text messages purportedly sent to her by the bishop.

The police said they have not yet decided whether to summon the bishop to Kerala or send a team to question him in Jalandhar, where he is now based.

Mired in controversy

Allegations of sexual abuse are not new to the Kerala’s various Christian churches. In March 2017, the police arrested Robin, vicar of the St Sebastian’s Church in Kottiyoor in Kannur, for allegedly raping and impregnating a 16-year-old girl. The survivor later gave birth. In 2014, Another vicar, Raju Kokken, was arrested for molesting a nine-year-old.

In December 2016, a special court in Ernakulam awarded two life terms to priest Edwin Figarez for raping a 14-year-old at his home in Puthenvelikkara, Thrissur.

In 2013, Arokiaraj, a priest at the St Stanislaus Church in Palakkad, was accused of raping and killing a 17-year-old girl. The priest, who reportedly confessed to raping the victim, was dismissed from the church but the crime was not reported to the police.

The Catholic Church in India comprises Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara churches. There are 132 dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in the country, 31 of the Syro-Malabar Church and 11 of the Syro-Malankara Chruh.

Father Pual Thelakat, former spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church, said it was disheartening that church leaders were committing such acts. “I am saddened by the developments,” he said. “This is a challenge to the Church.”

Sister Jesme, former principal of St Mary’s College in Thrissur, said only a fraction of the abuses against nuns are coming out in the public. “Nuns in many congregations live in pathetic conditions,” she said. “Their condition is worse than that of other women in our society. Our system at least allows women to complain against their rapists. But nuns have to keep quiet if they are raped. Their superiors will ask them not to complain against rapist priests.”

Jesme, 62, describes the sexual abuse and mental torture she suffered while serving the Congregation of the Mother Carmelite as a nun for 33 years in her book, Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun.

Reji Njallani, chairman of the Open Church Movement, which works for reforming churches, said the church has lost spirituality. “Priest and nuns are revelling in the material world,” he said. “Controlling the money power and political clout of priests is the only way to cleanse the system.”

Trading allegations

Mulakkal told the Malayalam TV news channel Asianet News on June 30 that he was not afraid of facing legal proceedings. “Let the law take its own course,” he said. “I am not afraid of it. I should be punished if I am guilty. I will counter all allegations in the court.”

In November 2016, the bishop claimed, he received a complaint that the nun was indulging in “immoral activities”. “I got the complaint from a woman,” he said. “It said the nun was having an affair with her husband. So I asked the mother general of the congregation to conduct an inquiry. The nun became my enemy after that. She is now taking revenge on me.”

The inquiry was not completed, he claimed, because of the nun’s “indifferent attitude”. “With the inquiry remaining inconclusive, the mother general issued a memo asking her to furnish a reply before July 2, failing which she would face disciplinary action,” he added. “She did not give a reply. Instead, she filed a complaint against me.”

The nun’s family contradicted Mulakkal’s claims by releasing a photograph of the inquiry team from Jalandhar purportedly visiting the Kuravilangad convent. “It was taken when the inquiry panel came to the convent on June 2,” said a family member. “It proves that the nun filed the complaint with the church well before lodging a police complaint. The church panel had promised to find a solution before June 30. She filed the police complaint when the panel failed to take action. The bishop is distorting facts to escape punishment.”