Controversy
In a leaked audio conversation, Father James Erthayil can be heard offering to build a convent for the nuns, if they helped withdraw the rape case against a bishop.
Bishop Franco Mullakkal

A day after the leaked audio conversation of a Kerala priest allegedly attempting to threaten and bribe a nun in return for withdrawing a rape complaint against a bishop, the Catholic Church has ordered him to step down.

In a statement, the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI), to which Father James Ethayil belongs to, has termed the incident as unfortunate and went on to clarify that the Church has nothing to do with the alleged offers made by the priest to the nun.

CMI stated, "Father James has been asked to step down. An inquiry has been initiated.”

The leaked audio clip takes place between Father James Erthayil, part of the Kanjirappally diocese of the CMI and Sister Anupama from the Missionaries of Jesus in Kottayam.

Sister Anupama was one of the five nuns, who came out in support to the 44-year-old nun allegedly raped by Bishop Franco Mullakkal of the Jalandhar diocese.

In the 11-minute audio clip first broadcast by Asianet, also with TNM, Father James attempts to bribe and lure Sister Anupama from withdrawing support to the survivor in return for a convent that would be built exclusively for the six nuns, including the survivor. 

Insinuating that the nuns would be ostracised by their families for supporting the rape survivor, Father James says, “I am the priest you met yesterday during the mass. I have tried to meet you twice but was not able to meet you. I have gotten information, not that anyone directly spoke to me, that ‘they’ would buy some ten acres of land and build a convent to accommodate some eight-ten nuns,” he says. Sister Anupama then can be heard asking, “Who would build the convent?” The priest replies the Jalandhar diocese and a benefactor.  

He, however, adds that the convent would be built on the condition that the nun withdraw the case.

Listen to the audio with translations here:

However, Sister Anupama refuses to be intimidated and says, "None of us will withdraw the case. We are all standing together strongly and want justice. We will not sell our pride and abandon one among us. They targeted us first".

However, Father James goes on to issued a veiled threat stating, “If you go to any of the convents in Orissa or Assam, you can get threats. But instead if you move away from all this and go to another convent headed by an independent Bishop, then there won’t be threats.”

“I bring before you an offer it’s for you to take a decision. Think well, take a decision which is for goodness. There are three phases, one you lived as a nun, second the one you are going through and the one you may come across in the future. Since you have lived as saints for years it would be tough to live otherwise,” he says.

In late June, a 44-year-old Catholic nun had filed a complaint with the police, alleging that Bishop Franco Mullakkal had raped her 13 times since 2014.

Following the complaint, police booked the bishop under IPC Section 376 (punishment for rape).

Read: Withdraw rape case, will give asylum: Audio of Kerala Catholic priest threatening nun