Church must take quick corrective measures

P. Sreekumaran

The Church leadership does not seem to be in a mood to learn lessons from the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who has been accused of repeatedly raping a nun, if the initial response is any indication.
The Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Council (KCBC) has, for instance, denounced the fast undertaken by five sisters in support of the nun who was allegedly sexually abused by Franco. The fast, it said, tarnished the image of the Church, adding that the arrest of the bishop was painful. The nuns have only played into the hands of the enemies of the Church, the KCBC opined. The KCBC’s stand goes against its own earlier stand on sexual crimes. For instance, in the rape cases of Kathua and Unnao, the KCBC had said that perpetrators of such crimes must be handed out deterrent punishment. However, in the Franco case, the KCBC has said not a word against the rape-accused bishop.
In an ominous sign of the shape of things to come, a sister who had supported the nuns’ agitation has been asked not to discharge her church duties at St. Mary’s Church parish at Karakkamala under Mananthawady diocese in Wayanad district. Sr Lucy Kalappura, a member of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation’s (FCC) St. Mary’s Province, in Mananthawady, said she has been asked by the Mother Superior of her convent to stay away from church duties, including holding catechism classes, offering holy communion and conducting group prayer sessions.
Sr Lucy’s ‘crime’, apart from supporting the agitating nuns, was that she participated in the TV channel discussions seeking justice for the nun in the rape case. Ironically, the church authorities have maintained a sepulchral silence on the charges against the rape-accused bishop. It has however, acted with lightning speed to relieve Sr Lucy of her church duties! On their part, the church authorities have denied any ban on the nun. All that has happened, they said, was that she has been conveyed the general opinion in the parish about the nun through the mother superior!
However, the action against the nun had to be withdrawn in the face of strong protest from the parishioners. The incident must open the eyes of the church leadership. The clear-cut message is: there will be stiff resistance to any attempt to silence the aggrieved nuns; and that people will no longer tolerate such intimidatory tactics.
In another instance of vindictive action, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate has warned priest Yuhanon Ramban of disciplinary action for supporting the striking nuns. Ramban has been warned against going ahead with demonstrations and public activities in support of the nuns. “The above-mentioned activities of yours have caused disgrace to the status of monasticism in our church”. Ramban compounded his offence by clamouring for implementing the proposed Church Act, vociferously opposed by a large number of bishops.
Such actions in the face of growing public sentiment against sexual abuse of hapless nuns can only boomerang on the Church. The time for cover-ups, hushing up of cases and the culture of silence that perpetuates abuses is over. The earlier the church authorities realize this, the better. The nun in the Franco case is a powerful symbol of the resistance movement gaining strength and traction against such sexual exploitation of women.
L’affaire Franco must induce serious self-introspection not only among the church authorities but also among those at the helm in institutions belonging to other religions. It is not as if only priests sexually exploit women. Self-styled godmen belonging to other religions have also been put behind the bars for sexual crimes. The two names that immediately spring to mind are Gurmeet Ram Rahim and Asharam Bapu. Out of the nine culprits who are cooling their heels in jail, 6 are priests and three self-styled Hindu godmen.
The only silver lining in the dark cloud is that various church leaders have lamented the decline of values in the Church. Their voices have started gaining greater resonance. Former spokesperson of the Syro Malabar Church, Fr. Paul Thelakkat, has called a spade a spade. It is a matter of grave concern, he said, that the upper echelons of the Church have been using their influence and clout to cover up their misdeeds. This must stop.
The embarrassment and ignominy faced by the institution of church has been brought about solely by the failure to initiate corrective steps to stem the rot. Blaming the nuns for coming to the streets in pursuit of justice won’t wash. The nuns took to the streets only after the church leadership ignored their cries for justice. In the Franco case, for instance, if only the bishop had been asked to step down in the wake of the growing outcry against him, the Church would have been spared the acute embarrassment and loss of face it is confronted with now.
The sordid episode provides an opportunity for the Church to make amends. And Pope Francis has shown them the way. In his latest appeal, the Pope has said that the time has come for the Church to change in the light of rising cases of sexual abuse by bishops all over the world. Reports say over 110 bishops from 36 countries are in jail, accused of sexual exploitation! The Pope has stressed the paramount need for the church authorities to move in step with the times. Failure to take action in sexual abuse cases is alienating the devout, Pope said. Will the authorities summon the courage and will power to take expeditious remedial steps? That is the million dollar question. (IPA)

Sunday, 7 October, 2018