“From childhood we have been taught to believe that the Church is our mother. But in the light of my experience I am beginning to think that the Church is a stepmother to women and laity.” These are the words of the nun who has accused the Jalandhar Bishop James Franco Mulakkal of sexual abuse and rape. But in the process, she found the entire Church machinery standing against her.
The nun has written a seven-page letter to The Apostolic Nuncio of India, Giambattista Diquattro – an Ambassador to the Pope – detailing her plight, and listing the names of all the people she has approached for help – including the Pope himself. None of them, she says – including the Nuncio – have bothered to help her, or take action against the rape-accused bishop. The letter was written on September 8.
Further, she has alleged that the bishop is a predator, and has gone after several sisters, but no action has ever been taken against him. “I write this letter as a victim of sexual abuse who is seeking justice,” she says. But, the nun says she was scared of approaching her superiors with a complaint for the longest time.
Accusing the bishop of creating a hostile work environment for her, she says, “Though Bishop Franco had sexually abused me several times, I could not reveal the full story to my Superior General or to her Councilors. I only told them repeatedly that the Bishop is taking many disciplinary actions through them just because I resisted to lie down with him. As they failed to understand even the seriousness of these words, I could not tell them more than this. And I had the fear that Bishop Franco may harm me with the support of my superiors (sic).”
And her case, the survivor says, is not the only one. There has been widespread concern about the bishop’s behaviour, especially after one instance, where the survivor hints that a young sister was sexually abused by him.
“Bishop Franco had always an eagle’s eye on few other MJ sisters as well. Whichever sister Bishop Franco felt attraction to, he tried to put them in his trap by force or taking advantage of their weaknesses,” she alleges.
“In this matter I can place a simple example of April 2017. One of our young sisters who had a close contact with Bishop Franco was caught by the authority with specific proofs for a serious error in the place where this sister was rendering her service. Then Bishop Franco asked our superiors to send her to another state where we have more than 3 communities, to a place where only junior sisters were there. Then in the same week itself, Bishop Franco made a special visit to this community and stayed there overnight. At night till 12 pm, this sister was alone in his room for ‘spiritual direction’,” she says.
The survivor says that several nuns have left the church because of the actions of the bishop in the last five years – and the fact that the person who was abusive was also the only person in power has made matters worse.
“The loss of vocations from the Missionaries of Jesus (MJ) during the last five years (20 sisters have left) prove that the congregational leadership has no solution for the problems faced by the sisters. The leadership team of the MJ sisters have only depended on Bishop Franco for all their problems,” she says, adding, “Since I was one of the senior most in the congregation I could not speak openly to any of my sisters.”
Detailing how she was ready to leave the congregation in May 2017, but decided against it because of the love and concern of other sisters and some bishops and priests, she says, “When I submitted my application for dispensation, all my four community members were ready to leave the congregation along with me and many others expressed to me their desire to leave Jalandhar Diocese and live in any other place with me as MJ sisters. Since I could not see the destruction of the congregation by losing so many vocations, I canceled my application for dispensation.”
But while she was concerned about how her actions would affect the church, despite the fact that she was facing violence, the church and its many authorities had little regard for her.
Meanwhile, she also listed out how Bishop Franco has filed multiple police complaints against her and her family, in order to threaten them. “I would like to bring to your notice the few attempts made by Bp Franco to hook us in different police cases,” she writes. In November 2017, the bishop filed a case against her and another nun, Sister Anupama, in Punjab, accusing them of threatening him that they will commit suicide. In June 2018, the bishop filed a case against the survivor’s brother, accusing him of threatening to murder the bishop. In the same month, the bishop also filed a case against six people, including family members and sisters who were supporting her – again, accusing them of threatening to murder him.
No justice, not even an acknowledgement
She explains in detail about how she knocked on several doors for months, but no one was willing to help. To make it worse, most of the higher ups in the church did not even acknowledge her letters to them.
She says that under the direction of two bishops who were sympathetic to her, she handed over a letter to Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, the head of the Syro Malabar Church. Despite her raising concerns that Bishop Franco may trap her in false cases, there was no response from the cardinal.
Though one of the bishops promised to arrange a meeting with the nuncio, that never materialised. In January 2018, she wrote to the nuncio explaining the allegations of rape, sexual exploitation and mental torture. Though the letter was handed over to the nuncio during a meeting in Bengaluru by Bishop Kurian Valiayakandathil, the Bishop of Bhagalpur, the nun received no reply.
Then in May 2018, she sent letters to three church officials in Rome including Pope Francis by courier. Though the couriers were delivered, there was no reply from any of them. In June 2018, the nun wrote to the State Secretary, Cardinal Pietro Parolin Segretario, but once again, to no response.