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Women’s group in India fears for safety, security of bishop’s alleged rape victim

A group of women in India appealed to Church leaders in the country to ensure the safety and security of the alleged victim of rape by a Catholic bishop, her companions and witnesses to the case.

The group Sisters in Solidarity made that call a day after a court in the Indian state of Kerala last week acquitted Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar of the rape charges filed by a nun.

Charges against the 57-year-old prelate were dismissed for lack of evidence.

In a letter addressed to Bishop Agnelo Gracias, apostolic administrator of Jalandhar, the Sisters in Solidarity expressed “deep shock, disappointment and disbelief” over the court decision and the reaction of several Church groups.

“The statement coming from some sections of the local community and media, claiming this verdict as a ‘major victory for the Church,’ is very disturbing,” read the letter.

“Is the survivor nun not part of the same Church?” it added.

The women said they are “pained to see how insensitively a daughter of the Church is disowned, discredited, and devalued by the members of the ecclesiastical community.”

The letter noted that the survivor and her companions “have already suffered much within the Church having been alienated from their mission and ostracized by the community.”

“Even after she pleaded for help to the Church authorities at various levels, not one of them ever responded to her in any manner to understand the truth,” added the letter.

After the nun, the superior of the St. Francis Mission Home of the Missionaries of Jesus in Kuravilangad, filed the rape case against the bishop, she was immediately stripped of her responsibilities as a religious.

“As a result of this, the survivor and her companions have experienced harassment and hostility from the supporters of the accused,” said the women’s group.

“After this verdict, they have become even more vulnerable and are in danger of further victimization,” added the women’s letter.

They said that are also “deeply concerned” about the safety of Franciscan Clarist Sister Lissy Vadakkel, one of the witnesses who is under police protection.

“Her frail health and isolation from the rest of the community is a matter of grave concern,” read the women’s letter.

The group sent copies of the letter to Cardinal Oswald Cardinal Gracias, head of the Catholic Church in India, and nine officials of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the Conference of Catholic Bishops in India, the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, and the Conference of Religious India.

“We urge the Church … to be sensitive to the survivor and her supporters to ensure their safety and dignity in this crucial time, in the spirit of justice, compassion and care modeled by Jesus,” the women said.

“Immediate steps need to be taken to guarantee their security and ensure them freedom from any kind of harassment,” they added.

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