It is not a secret that the Catholic Church is a powerful institution in the state of Kerala. It is also well known that the Church heads – like their counterparts in other religions – are questioned by none, as their authority is supposed to be beyond criticism. Bishop Franco Mulakkal, it seems, is no exception. Though a section of Kerala society has joined the fight launched by the nuns against Mulakkal, the political parties in the state are yet to show their strength to seek justice in one of the most sensational cases the state has witnessed in connection with the Church. Leave aside the legal side of things; the complainant nun and the other five sisters who are supporting her are hardly getting any moral support from the political parties in the state.
On Monday, a protest was organised by the youth organisations under the United Democratic Front – that is in the opposition – in front of the Secretariat. It was expected to be a strong demand for justice for the nun; however, the protesters chose to focus on sexual harassment cases since the CPI (M) led Left Democratic Front came to power. The political target was obviously the ruling party – but what of Mulakkal? Why weren’t any words directed at him?
Opposition leader and Congress man Ramesh Chennithala launched the protest. On Franco, all he had to say were the same, almost tame words, he has been repeating for the past few days. “It has been 78 days, and the probe in the case is slow,” he said, and quickly switched over to other cases. In a press meet that followed, Chennithala was questioned about the case and he still had nothing different, or more aggressive, to say about Franco Mulakkal.
Pic: Sreekesh Raveendran Nair
The lukewarm opposition, and reaction for the sake of reacting, is not just from Chennithala. The otherwise aggressive political parties in the state have resorted to harmless posturing, and have been cautious in their attack on the Bishop, while the nuns are getting support from the rest of society.
The BJP, which rushes to criticise the Left government in Kerala at every opportunity, has shied away from putting up a strong front and there have only been scattered responses. The CPI (M)’s core ally, the CPI, and its state president Kanam Rajendran, have been more or less guarded.
Although the CPI’s youth wing AIYF, and its women’s wing Kerala Mahila Sangham, staged a protest, the CPI was lenient towards their ally, CPI (M). “I would react if the police action is not on the right path,” said Kanam Rajendran. “But since the case happened in the past, we can’t insist that the collection of evidence should be completed in a time bound manner,” he added.
There has been no huge protest or a genuine demand by any of the political parties for justice, in an otherwise politically vibrant state. The CPI (M), needless to say, has not taken any proactive stand in criticising its government.
And as usual, the only voice that has stood out is that of veteran CPI (M) leader VS Achuthanandan, who said that the pressure the survivor is going through is huge, as the influential Bishop is flying free above all investigation systems for the past two months.
So how powerful is Bishop Franco Mulakkal?
“He is powerful, by all means, he is powerful as a Bishop, and as a person who has accumulated assets worth crores,” the nuns had told TNM when we met them at the protest venue in Kochi. And the nuns’ statement don’t come as a surprise, given the guarded reaction – or no reaction – from other Christian congregations or other religious institutions in the state as well.
“One thing is vote bank politics, and the second thing is the money power of the Bishop,” the complainant nun’s brother tells TNM. “We have the support of our parish, the media and a section of people. The only political support we have is from the AIYF. The BJP won’t come out against this because they have an eye on the vote bank of Christians,” he adds.
Shine Geevarghese, of the Save Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (SAMT), says, “At this point, we can’t say that it is because of vote bank politics, for believers no longer cast votes as directed by the Church, as evident from the previous two-three elections. There could be other connections between the parties and the Bishop – financial or otherwise. But the feeling we get is that the political parties won’t be there for the common man.”
SAMT exposed the irregularities in the land deal by Syro-Malabar Catholic Church by its head Cardinal Mar George Alencherry.
“When there were sexual harassment complaint against Congress MLA M Vincent, the government was keen to arrest him as he is an opposition MLA. Similar was the enthusiasm of the opposition on a complaint of the same nature against PK Sasi, MLA of the CPI (M). But the Bishop is getting a shield which no one else got,” Shine says.
A 44-year-old Catholic nun from the Missionaries of Jesus in Kerala has accused Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal of raping her multiple times between 2014 and 2016. She approached the Kerala police in June this year when the Catholic Church failed to take any action on her complaint. The Bishop was then booked under Section 376 of the IPC (punishment for rape). Sisters of the Missionaries of Jesus in Kottayam – Anupama, Alphy, Josephine, Neena Rose and Anaitha – have been protesting demanding the arrest of the Bishop for the past ten days.