A group of Catholic women in India called for a Church inquiry into the charges of rape leveled by a religious nun against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar.
The group Sisters in Solidarity, a national forum of Catholic women in India, demanded that an investigation be done by an ecclesiastical court to ascertain the truth behind the case.
On January 14, a civil court in Kerala acquitted Bishop Franco who was accused of raping a nun multiple times inside a convent.
The court said the prosecution failed to prove the bishop’s guilt.
In its statement, the women’s group said they would be seeking “a revision of the Canon Law and the theology of priesthood to cleanse it of elements that breed clericalism, which is an enabler of clerical sexual abuse.”
The women said that to prevent the recurrence of abuse, the Church should put in place necessary structures and ensure “absolute transparency and accountability” in handling sex abuse cases.
The statement, which was signed by 15 women and endorsed by at least 1,278 signatories — heads of religious congregations of priests and nuns, women’s advocates, and members of the academe — has been sent to the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of India and the Vatican.
Bishop Kurien Valiakandathil of Bhagalpur, who stood as witness in the civil case, and Sister Mary Nirmalini, head of the Conference of Religious in India, also endorsed the statement.
The case against Bishop Mulakkal stemmed from the charges filed by a former superior general of the Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation in Jalandhar in the northern state of Punjab.
The nun claimed that Bishop Mulakkal raped her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. The court, however, acquitted the bishop, for lack of evidence.
“When it is not feasible to separate truth from falsehood, when grain and chaff are inextricably mixed up, the only available course is to discard the evidence in toto,” read the court decision.
In the statement, the women’s group said the court decision “overlooks the fact that the abuser was within a fiduciary relationship of power and authority over the victim as the patron of her congregation.”
“It does not take into account her multiple vulnerabilities as a religious nun,” added the group Sisters in Solidarity.
“Minor discrepancies in her statement are relied upon to project the survivor as a manipulator and a power hungry person who has filed a false complaint only to tarnish the image of the bishop at the instigation of his rivals,” said the women.
The women said that the Church should look into the case, adding that the Code of Canon Law states that court judgement should not deter the ecclesiastical courts from conducting an inquiry and give the victim the right to participate in the proceedings “and claim compensation for damages” as required by Church law.
The group said “concerned Church leaders” should also visit the “traumatized nun” and her companions “and give them an opportunity to tell their truth.”
The women also urged Church leaders to provide psychological, spiritual, and financial support to the survivor and the sisters in her community and that they be allowed to continue to reside and exercise their mission in their convent.
The women’s group said Bishop Mulakkal should also not be given any administrative responsibilities and spiritual leadership in the Church until the case is completed, and that he be moved out of Jalandhar, where he reportedly hold influence.