24th January 2019
AN OPEN LETTER
Abp Giambattista Diquattro
Apotolic Nuncio to India
For several months now we have been reading and hearing, ad nauseum, on TV channels about what I call the Frightening Franco Mulakkal case; pertaining to the alleged multiple rape of a religious sister, a former Superior General of the Missionaries of Jesus (MJ) congregation of Jalandhar, coming under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the self same bishop, the accused in the instant case.
It is common knowledge that it is only after a group of concerned citizens (not just Catholics) came together under the banner of Save Our Sisters that both the police and judiciary in Kerala, and even the office of the Holy Father, sat up and took notice.
As Pope Francis’ Apostolic representative in India it is only fitting that I write to you, as any letter to the Pope himself may get lost in a maze of correspondence. My Open Letter to you and other leaders of recognized national Catholic organizations is occasioned by the letter of Swami Agnivesh to the Pope about the coercive attempt to transfer the five nuns who are key witnesses in the case, out of Kerala. I had the privilege of meeting Swami Agnivesh way back in 1990, when I was the National President of the All India Catholic Union. He is an ascetic of high moral integrity, who has dedicated his life for the marginalized, especially bonded labour.
It is disturbing that the present Superior General of the MJs is transferring the sisters who are key witnesses to the alleged instances of multiple rapes. At such a time, taking recourse to ecclesiastical discipline or rules of the congregation (controlled by the accused) to browbeat the victim into submission, is tantamount to rubbing salt into the wounds, and extending tacit support to the powerful and influential accused bishop.
It is not for us to pre-judge the bishop, but the due process of criminal justice has found him to be a prima facie criminal, hence ordered his arrest. It is common knowledge that influential clients with highly paid and clever lawyers can obtain bail for them. So it is not at all surprising that the accused is now out on bail.
In the face of adverse media build up the accused bishop was removed from “administrative duties” of his diocese. However, he continues to reside there. The way that he was feted on his release on bail made our stomachs churn with revulsion. He obviously still calls the shots in the diocese.
It is pertinent to place on record that the accused, the victim, the witnesses, and even the present Superior General of the MJs, all belong to Kerala, where the case is registered, and the victim and witnesses presently reside. The brother of the victim and others has alleged a threat to their lives if they do not withdraw the charges, or reject the “offer” of land and money in lieu of the same. We also know that one of the key witnesses, a priest of Jalandhar diocese, again a native of Kerala, was found dead at his residence in mysterious circumstances a couple of months ago.
The circumstantial evidence points to a deep rooted conspiracy to silence the alleged victim and obstruct the course of justice. Justice must not only be done, but as also be seen to being done. Unfortunately, the way that the case has been handled by ecclesiastical authorities has only compounded the negative publicity for the church. There is urgent need for a course correction.
Fearing for their lives from the machinations of a powerful and influential adversary, the sisters have had to take the extreme step of seeking protection from the Chief Minister of the State of Kerala. This was in fact the fundamental duty of the church itself, “to save the smouldering wick and bruised reed” (cf Mat 12:20) as Jesus would have done.
We know that clerical sexual abuse is now a worldwide scandal that has made us Catholics hang our heads in shame. Pope Francis has now called a special meeting of bishops in Rome next month, to address this deep rooted malaise. As a pre-requisite for the same he has asked the heads of all Episcopal conferences to meet the victims of alleged clerical sexual abuse, and record their tales of suffering. This does not seem to have happened in the instant case.
In view of the above I humbly request you to initiate the following steps:
- That the head of the concerned episcopal conference (be it the CBCI or the CCBI) be directed to immediately meet with the alleged victim and submit his findings to Pope Francis.
- That Franco Mulakkal, the powerful accused, be forthwith relocated from the geographical area of Jalandhar diocese, and be forbidden to interact with the MJ congregation, directly or through intermediaries.
- That the hapless victim and witness nuns be provided emotional, spiritual and ecclesiastical support, and be allowed to stay together in Kerala till all their statements have been recorded before the concerned judicial officer hearing the case; and that in the matter of transfer the Superior General of the MJs be directed to submit to the authority of the court concerned, so that the course of justice is not impeded.
It is not out of place to here mention that a few months ago I had drawn your kind attention to the alleged concubinage and massive alienation of community assets by Bp Gallela Prasad of Kadapa diocese in Andhra Pradesh. You took cognizance of the complaint and made the concerned bishop resign from his post. I therefore have confidence in your ecclesiastical leadership and administrative acumen; and hope and pray that you will use your good offices to act decisively in this matter as well.
I thank you in anticipation of your action.
1. Bp Theodore Mascarenhas
Secretary General – Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India
2. Bro T. Amalan FSC
President – Conference of Religious of India
3. The President
Council of Catholic Women of India
4. Lancy D’Cunha
National President – All India Catholic Union
5. The Editors/ Bureau Chiefs of Catholic Journals/ Web Portals