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Catholic Church defending Bishop, involved in Kerala nun rape case; reveals its deeply patriarchal mindset: NAPM

Counterview Desk
Taking strong exception to the recent impunity provided to a rape and sexual harassment accused, Bishop Franco Mukammal by the Kerala police, the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements (NAPM), India's top civil rights network, has said that false allegations are being leveled against the victim, a nun, in a conspiracy to malign her. In a statement, signed by civil society organizations across India, NAPM has demanded “immediate arrest of Bishop Franco and a fair and time-bound investigation and trial”.

Text of the NAPM statement:

The NAPM condemns the impunity being provided to Bishop Franco Mukammal by the Kerala police, the criminal justice system and the Catholic church who are letting him roam free, despite heinous charges of rape and sexual exploitation. The survivor of this violence is a nun (from the same congregation as the Bishop) who was raped 13 times between 2014 and 2016 by her superior, Bishop Franco at a convent in Kuravilangad, Kerala. Additionally, the Bishop also harassed her by sending her lewd messages and obscene pictures on her phone.
Initially, the nun approached different church authorities at state and national levels including Cardinal George Alancherry, the head of the Kochi-based Syro-Malabar Church and Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto. When her complaints were ignored or dismissed by them, the nun turned to the police, hoping for justice.
An FIR was registered against the Bishop on June 28, 2018 and a 114-page long detailed statement was taken from the nun and other residents of the convent, in which the survivor describes the painful and undignified experiences of sexual violence she was subjected to. Over 70 days have passed now after the filing of the case and it is appalling that the Bishop still roams scot-free.
This is shocking because a man who allegedly raped the survivor more than 13 times over a period of two years, has the complete support of the higher structures of the Catholic Church, simply because he occupied a position of power: that of a Bishop.
In an effort to defend the Bishop, various members of the Catholic congregation have tried to defame the nun by stating that she was motivated by right-wing Hindutva elements and rationalists and was making false charges. They also went a step further and published her photos with the Bishop. They violated the law, by disclosing the survivor’s identity and also tried to confuse the public, the police, and the courts.
This response from the Church not only shows the support the Bishop continues to enjoy but also reveals the deeply patriarchal mindset within the institution that is ready to treat nuns as a second-class citizen, whose safety and bodily integrity don’t matter as much as the freedom and reputation of men in powerful positions.
Independent MLA PC George
The extent of the Bishop’s socio-economic-political influence is seen in another instance where an MLA, PC George, spoke out in support of the Bishop, and attempted to defame the survivor by calling her “a prostitute” during a widely televised press conference. This is a classic example of a culture where men wielding power rush to defend other men from allegations that threaten to upset their position and the structures that allow them their privilege.
Amidst all the attempts at dismissing the survivor’s allegations and the attacks on her morality from her own congregation, a group of Catholic nuns have come out in support of the survivor by demonstrating outside the Kerala High Court. The protesting nuns have rejected all defamatory allegations against the survivor and are steadfast in their position that they will continue their agitation till justice is delivered.
The survivor and the protesting nuns have demanded the removal of the Jalandhar Bishop from the post, alleging that by continuing in the position, Franco and his close associates are using the wealth of the diocese to divert the course of the police investigation.
There is a fear that the Bishop, with his vast power, will be able to influence witnesses (using threats or bribes), destroy evidence, or buy out the state administration. The survivor also submitted a detailed letter to a diplomatic mission in the Vatican alleging that the Bishop and his associates were influencing (read: strong-arming/bribing) authorities in both the State and the Church to support him by stalling investigations, giving public statements, and burying legal proceedings.
A few days after she sent this letter, Franco Mukammal was pressured into resigning from his post as Bishop on September 15, 2018. While this is significant, the struggle for justice is far from over.
By raising their voices about this one incident, these nuns are paving the way for more survivors of sexual violence to come forward. At a time when women are exposing leaders across religions for their sexually exploitative ways, be it Asaram Babu or Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, National Alliance of People’s Movements stands in solidarity with the survivor and the brave nuns who dare to protest the patriarchal rape culture in their own religious institution and in society at large.
We strongly condemn:
  • The horrific pattern of sexual violence perpetrated on women in religious institutions. 
  • The constant trend of victim blaming, attempts at discrediting the survivor’s narratives, a conspiracy on maligning the image of the Nun and stand in full support with her fight and struggle. 
  • The church for not standing with the survivor who, as a worker in the Church, is entitled to a workplace free from sexual violence. 
  • The nexus of powerful men across political, religious and state institutions that work together to perpetuate rape culture and maintain patriarchy. 
We demand:
  • Immediate arrest of the main accused Bishop Franco Mukammal. 
  • An impartial and just investigation, given the formidable political influence wielded by Bishop Franco.
  • A speedy and fair trial to ensure justice to the survivor of violence. 
  • Full protection and security to the survivor and the nuns who are protesting. 
  • Full compensation given to the nuns as per the Supreme Court's orders and IPC provisions. 
  • Immediate legal action against the individual(s) responsible for leaking the survivors’ photos. 
  • Establishment of committees at the level of each congregation to address sexual harassment within religious institutions. 
---
Statement endorsed, among others, by Medha Patkar (Narmada Bachao Andolan), Prafulla Samantara (Lok Shakti Abhiyan), P Chennaiah (Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union), Ramakrishnam Raju (United Forum for RTI), Meera Sanghamitra, Rajesh Serupally (NAPM Telangana-Andhra Pradesh), Swami Agnivesh (Bandhua Mukti Morcha), Kavita Srivastava (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), Sandeep Pandey (Socialist Party), Geetha Ramakrishnan (Unorganised Sector Workers Federation), Sister Celia (Domestic Workers Union), Maj Gen (Retd) SG Vombatkere (NAPM, Karnataka), Vilayodi Venugopal and Prof Kusumam Joseph (NAPM, Kerala)

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