Controversy
Father James Erthayil offers a convent to be built for the nuns if they stop supporting the nun, TNM has the audio in its possession.
Bishop Franco Mullakkal

A leaked audio conversation between a priest and a nun has emerged, lending credence to allegations about how the Catholic Church is attempting to bury sexual harassment complaints against clergymen. The audio conversation is between Father James Erthayil attached to the Kanjirappallly diocese of Carmelites of Mary Immaculate and Sister Anupama from the Missionaries of Jesus in Kottayam. Sister Anupama was one of the five nuns who had come out in support of the 44-year-old nun, who was allegedly sexually abused by Bishop Franco Mullakkal of 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, who belong the Missionaries of Jesus. The five of them together with the survivor are presently residing at the convent of the Catholic Church at Kuruvilangad in Kottayam. 

Suggesting that the nuns would be ostracised by their families if they were to continue to support the survivor, Father James tells Sister Anupama that it would be wise to accept the offer.  “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. The priest adds that the convent would be built in the periphery of Kanjirappallly diocese in Erumeli.

Sister Anupama then can be heard asking, “Who would build the convent?” The priest replies the Jalandhar diocese and a benefactor.  

Listen to the audio with translations here:

He says that 'the Jalandhar diocese will help on the condition that you will withdraw the case'.

To which Sister Anupama retorts, "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". 

Making the bribe sound like an offer of generosity, born out of kind heartedness, Father James goes on to say, “Your family members will receive you now – your parents may be there and a brother in each house to receive you. But that won’t be the situation in the future. So take a decision after thinking it through. There is a proverb in Malayalam which says, ‘If we jump into a well out of anger, even if you get angry several times inside the well, you won’t be able to get out,” he says.

Father James then goes on to issue 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,” says.

In June, the 44-year-old Catholic nun approached the Kerala police accusing the bishop Fr Franco Mulakkal of raping her 13 times from 2014 onwards. She approached the police after her complaint to the Catholic Church went unanswered. 

However, it was Bishop Franco Mullakkal, who first filed a complaint against the survivor, stating that the nun had raised sexual abuse allegations against him after he removed her from an administrative position. Based on the bishop’s complaint, a case was registered under Section 295 A - deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting the religious beliefs.  

Speaking to TNM, Sister Anumapa’s brother Josy alleges that the conversation reveals the attempt to threaten and lure the nuns with a bribe.

When asked, if the nuns have to worry about the repercussions and their future if they leave convents, Josy says, “It is the priest who says that the nuns won’t be having long-term survival at their homes, we didn’t say that. As their family, we extend wholehearted support for the nuns, we would definitely receive them.”

He also adds, “The attitude of the Church is indeed disappointing, rather than taking action against the accused priests they are trying to force the complainants to withdraw their case. It has a big impact on people like me. If the Church had taken a clear stand we could at least get some solace. Cases of harassment have been hushed up. Now it’s like there is no one to trust other than God.”

Read: Kerala Catholic nun accuses bishop of rape, files police complaint