Readers are aware of the recent developments on the agitation seeking removal/arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar. Five nuns, belonging to the Missionaries of Jesus, are on an indefinite sit-in-demonstration in Kerala demanding the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar accused of raping one of their nuns. Former High Court judge Kemal Pasha expressed solidarity with attended the protest organized by the Joint Christian Council near the High Court Junction in Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala. Justice Pasha said the nuns had set a courageous example.
In this instance we have for the first time, a very courageous initiative from Fr Dr Suresh Mathew, Editor-in-Chief of Indian Currents, one of the best Catholic journals. He has written an open letter to Bishops with his logical arguments asking Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar to step down till he is proven innocent of the nun's rape charges.
I am grateful to Chhotebhai who received this letter and forwarded it to me for information. I wrote to him whether the letter can be published in Church Citizens' Voice to enlighten readers that all in the Church Hierarchy are not tight-lipped on the matter. On Chhotebhai's sage advice, I wrote to Fr Dr Suresh Mathew and he gladly gave me the permission to publish his letter in Church Citizens' Voice. We are indeed grateful to him for this. Let us watch out for the impact of this letter (given below).
Readers may also refer to a report Church magazine editorial says even basic facilities like sanitary pads denied to nuns in the Indian Express August 14, 2018 issue https://indianexpress.com/article/india/kerala-catholic-church-magazine-editorial-exploitation-of-nuns-convents-exploitation-menstruation-5306351/. It reads: The editorial, written by Dr Suresh Mathew in 'Indian Currents', an English weekly published from Delhi by a society under the patronage of the Capuchins of Krist Jyoti Province of North India, talks at length about the violation of basic rights of nuns whose contributions to the Church are not small. Fr Suresh further wrote in his scathing editorial “In India, nuns in many congregations are not allowed to use mobile phones or personal e-mail to be in touch with their near and dear ones. There are allegations of discrimination between earning and non-earning members within the same congregation.” It goes further to say, “There are also instances of denial of basic facilities in many convents. It may sound primitive, but it is a fact that in many cases, nuns and novices continue with the unhygienic practice of using clothes during their menstruation period as sanitary pads are a strict ‘no’.” Isaac Gomes, Asso. Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.
Dear Fr Suresh Mathew,Chhotebhai the great man forwarded to me the email below.With your permission, can it be published in Church Citizens' Voice for the benefit of readers?With kind regardsIsaac GomesAsso. Editor – Church Citizens' Voice
Suresh Mathew firstname.lastname@example.org
To: Isaac Gomes email@example.com
Date: Sep 11, 2018, 11:25 PM
Subject: Re: Open Letter to the bishops on Jalandhar issue
Sure, (go) ahead.
Fr Dr Suresh Mathew – OFM Cap. and Editor-in-Chief Indian Currents
From: INDIAN CURRENTS <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 10:48 PM
Subject: Open Letter to the bishops on Jalandhar issue
Greetings from Fr Suresh Mathew OFM Cap.
As the Jalandhar diocese issue takes many twists and turns day by day, my memories take me back to August 1, 1990. Fr Alexander Kadukanmackal of happy memory, walked into our classroom at Jyotiniketan, the Capuchin minor seminary in Ghaziabad, UP and broke a shocking news. On July 13, some men had broken into Saint Mary´s Convent at Gajraula in Uttar Pradesh, 100 kilometers away from New Delhi, assaulted its residents and raped two young nuns.
Fr Alexander instructed us to get ready in a few minutes to go to Delhi to protest against the sexual assault on the nuns. Shocked and pained, all of us, in no time, got into a bus and reached India Gate in the heart of Delhi to take part in a protest against the gruesome act of sexual assault on nuns.
Under the aegis of the CBCI, more than 15,000 people had gathered at the protest site, condemning the rape and demanding justice to the victims. The protesters marched to the then Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh´s residence, some 3 kilometers away. A delegation representing Christian and women’s groups led by Archbishop Alphonsus Mathias of Bangalore, the then CBCI President, submitted a memorandum to Shri V. P. Singh.
The incident had raised an unprecedented national outcry against what was then known as ‘Gajraula rape’.
Cut to the present. Twenty eight years down the line, the minor seminarians, who shouted for justice to the traumatized nun and action against the culprits, remain mute spectators to the shrill voice of another devastated nun who is also a ‘rape victim’. The difference is: In 1990, the culprits were ‘unknown barbarians’. Today, the accused is none else but a bishop. In 1990, we demanded immediate arrest of the culprits to give a semblance of justice to the victims; but today, we are trying to be legally correct stating that an accused is not guilty until proven.
We have made the logic to stand on its head; we have learnt to sing a tune that suits the occasion; we have got the heart to hunt down the victim; we have also learnt the art of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.
But we have forgotten what Pope Francis said on the issue during his visit to Ireland: “Failure of ecclesiastical authorities to address sexual abuse has rightly given rise to outrage.” Later he added: “The failure to deal with them (sexual abuse by members of the Church) is a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.” These words seem to have fallen on deaf ears if the Jalandhar issue is any indication.
The whole issue is getting mired in mystery with each passing day; on equal measure it is sullying the image of the church. The police enquiry seems to be going at a snail’s pace. It is in contrast to the express speed they have acted in similar cases, even those involving MLAs and political leaders. Here ‘the accused is not guilty until proven’ principle takes precedence over the victim’s elaborate testimonies before the police.
Moving away from the legal tangle, the Church has to see the issue as a moral and ethical one. By all accounts, there is something ‘terribly wrong’ in Jalandhar diocese. This inference is not based on the complaint of just one nun. A number of my theology professors in Jalandhar, companion priests, nuns and former nuns of the diocese have given vent to the ‘unholy acts’ of the bishop. The Church authorities cannot close their eyes to this ground reality.
The church hierarchy also should not turn their back on the ‘rarest of the rare’ public protests by priests, nuns and lay people. Trying to save one person can have disastrous results for the church as a whole. Here again, I am drawing examples from my own batch mates to substantiate a point. I find my batch mates and fellow Capuchins joining the dharna by the nuns and others in Kochi. They do it as they are disgusted at the disastrous developments.
As I too remain dismayed, I appeal to the highest church hierarchy to intervene and set things right before it goes out of hand. I appeal to Bishop Franco to step aside till he is proved innocent, in a court of law, as he claims vehemently. It is not the time to stand on prestige. It is time to act to keep the holiness of the church intact.
I would like to conclude quoting Pope Francis, which should sound as a warning to the church authorities in India: “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives.” Hope the Church in India would show the commitment to act fast on this issue.
Fr Suresh Mathew OFM Cap
Editor, Indian Currents Weekly,
Indian Currents 'Journalism With a Soul'.