A Congress MLA in Kerala was arrested and remanded in judicial custody two days after a woman filed a complaint accusing him of sexual harassment. Malayalam film actor Dileep was locked in jail for 85 days on the basis of a letter written from prison by an accused in the case of an actress’ abduction alleging his involvement in the matter.
In contrast, the Kerala Police did not question a Catholic bishop even 40 days after a nun filed a complaint accusing him of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. The head of the investigation team AT Subhash had told this correspondent a week after the inquiry began that the charges the nun had levelled against the accused — Jalandhar diocese Bishop Franco Mulakkal — were sustainable, and that he will be summoned to Kerala and questioned soon.
Since then, a lot more evidence has surfaced against the bishop. Subhash Babu, a retired superintendent of police, said that the statement the victim recorded before a magistrate under Section 164 (recording of confessions and statements) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), confirmation of the presence of the accused at the time and place mentioned in the statement and the medical examination that confirmed sexual contact are sufficient proof under the current laws to arrest the accused.
A crime committed by an individual who has power over the victim is a serious offence under Section 375 (rape) of IPC and calls for sterner punishment. The nun is a member of the congregation Mulakkal controls in his capacity as the head of the Jalandhar diocese.
The investigation team has already collected a lot more corroborative and circumstantial evidence from more than a dozen witnesses and verified a few allegations of attempt to influence and threaten the victim, her family members and friends. Yet, all of this does not seem sufficient for the Kerala Police to at least question the bishop.
The investigators wanted to go into the bishop’s complaint that the nun had raised false allegations against him after he had ordered an inquiry into a complaint the Church had received from one of her relatives. The relative had accused the nun of having an illicit relationship with her husband.
“This is fair. But even after the complainant (the relative) confirmed that she had lodged the complaint (not with the police) against the nun due to a misunderstanding, the investigation team is not convinced,” said Indulekha Joseph, a member of the Church Action Council. “They want to verify the nun’s claim that she had lodged several complaints with the Church authorities before moving the police. If anybody sees this as part of a game plan to allow the bishop more time to wriggle out of the case, they cannot be blamed.”
She also said that the way the investigation is proceeding has cemented the apprehension that the police is trying to protect Mulakkal. Indulekha pointed out the glaring example of the investigation team’s attempt to take the statement of the papal representative in New Delhi on the complaint the nun had lodged with him.
A six-member team went to the Vatican Embassy in New Delhi on Saturday without an appointment and returned empty handed. Curiously, the team went to Delhi after the top brass of the Kerala Police reviewed the progress of the investigation.
“People are not fools to believe that the police is not aware of the procedure to gain entry into an embassy, let alone to question an envoy,” said George Joseph, who has approached the Kerala High Court with a plea seeking a court-monitored investigation in the case. “The team went to the Vatican Embassy, that too on a holiday, without the permission of the protocol officer. This is a carefully careless act aimed at giving the bishop time.”
He added that the team’s reported decision to go to Ujjain to confirm the nun’s claim that she had informed the bishop there about the sexual abuse she suffered from Mulakkal shows that the police want to give the accused more time to influence the victim and those who support her to retract from the legal course.
“These are secondary evidence that the police can collect after questioning the bishop and arresting him,” the former police officer said. “The delay in taking action against the accused will help him destroy evidence and influence the victim and witnesses.”
Several such instances have already come out in the open. One is a complaint by the victim’s brother that the bishop had offered the family Rs 5 crore to withdraw the complaint. Another is an audio clip in which a priest can purportedly be heard offering the victim’s friend 10 acres and a building to set up a convent for 18 nuns, who had quit the vocation allegedly because of the troubles caused by the bishop.
“Ten acres of land and a building will cost more than Rs 15 crore in Kerala. It needs to be found out how the bishop got this kind of money. He is apparently using this money power to hush up the case,” George Joseph alleged.
He claimed that the documents he had showed that the bishop had sexually abused the nun as his right. In a statement the nun gave to a church committee, she said that the prelates had a right over nuns’ bodies as they were the brides of Jesus Christ.
Indulekha Joseph wonders whether it is this self-claimed right that deters the Church from taking action against the bishop. She said that everyone in the Church hierarchy whom the nun had approached had failed to get her justice.
Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church from which both the nun and the bishop hail, had tried to persuade her to settle the case within the Church. The Vatican has also been mum on the matter, though Pope Francis has been reiterating zero tolerance to sexual abuse by members of the clergy.
Indulekha Joseph believes that the authorities have been shying away from taking action against the bishop because of his high connections at the Vatican and in the government. She claimed that the administration is protecting Mulakkal because the Church wields control over the significant Christian vote bank in Kerala.
However, she said that a majority of the Christians support the hapless nun. They have started realising that the attempt to shield the bishop has been bringing disgrace to the Church and making it a subject of public ridicule.
Indulekha Joseph, who is fighting for reforms in the Church, believes that a stern action against the bishop will add to the grace of the Church and its moral authority over the faithful. Unfortunately, the Church in Kerala is not wise enough to realise this, she said.