Irrespective of judgement, Bishop Franco will continue to be looked at with suspicion – Opinion

India Today [Uttar Pradesh, India]

January 17, 2022

By Saira Shah Halim

The Kottayam court acquitting Bishop Franco Mulakkal while the survivor was expelled from her duties was a telling saga of how sexual predators not only survive but thrive in India.

Ezekiel 34:4 “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.

No person is fit for the office of a shepherd who does not well understand the diseases to which sheep are incident, and the mode of cure. And is any man fit for the pastoral office or to be a shepherd of souls who is not well acquainted with the disease of sin in all its varieties, and the remedy for this disease and the proper mode of administering it? He who does not know Jesus Christ as his own saviour, can never recommend him to others.

A good shepherd provides personalized care based upon the sheep’s spiritual condition.The prophets, Ezekiel and Zechariah, bring “woes” against the shepherds of Israel, who are described as “faithless”, “foolish” and “worthless”.

The shepherds of Israel that didn’t provide individualised care, were accused of taking a position of leadership in order to just feed themselves rather than the flock of God’s people entrusted to them. God was not ambiguous about what he thought of these men- “I am against the shepherds” (Ezekiel 34:10).

A few days ago, we saw the shocking judgement passed by the Kerala additional district and session court that acquitted rape-accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal, accused of a nun’s rape in Kerala.

Sister Lucy, one of the nuns, who supported the victim was quoted saying, “The court will tend to the powerful even if they are accused. “

In fact, it has been alleged that sister Lucy was being punished by the church for driving and writing poems.

A large part of our society today looks up to religious people/institutions for leadership on the moral front. It is therefore highly appropriate that the church takes its position and provides the same.

The beginning of the 16th century that led to the protestant reformation as the clergy abuse caused people to begin criticizing the Catholic church.The greed and the scandalous lives of the clergy had created a split between them and the peasants. Furthermore, the clergy did not respond to the population’s needs often because they did not speak the local language or live in their own diocese. That’s how the papacy lost prestige.

In 2020, Pope Francis was quoted saying that corruption is an “ancient evil” that continues to plague the Catholic church in different ways.

Despite past and present efforts to root it out, unfortunately, corruption is a cyclical story that repeats itself until someone comes along to clean and tidy up.

It is known that the Kerala police will be moving Kerala High Court against the acquittal as the nuns also stepped up in their appeal.

As the court considers a proposal to criminalise marital rape, the same court acquits Bishop Franco, accused of raping a nun thirteen times over three years in a convent. In fact, a senior police officer who supervised the investigation, said the verdict was unbelievable.

The fact that there were 39 witnesses from the prosecution and not a single one turned hostile, yet the court chose to ignore their testimony and call it untrue, reflects the callousness of the premise for refusing to accept the rot, yet the Kottayam court acquits Bishop Franco Mulakkal as the survivor got expelled from her duties ,had to face a barrage of threats and slander is a telling and oft repeated saga of how sexual predators not only survive but thrive in India.

This incident is just a grim reminder, like so many others, why our judicial system keeps failing us and siding with the powerful parties involved and leaving the victim in tatters and completely rudderless.

Sister Anupama has been quoted saying, “Money and muscle power have won. We can’t believe this verdict.”

This, in fact, is a classic example of how the church can control the narrative and make and break lives.

Retired Judge B Kemal Pasha said: “The judgement is unacceptable. He said that the court had all the reasons not to believe the nun. It’s the burden of the accused to prove that he’s not guilty.”

The Union government has informed the Delhi High Court that marital rape cannot be made into a criminal offence until the Centre’s consultation with all stake holders is incomplete, paving the way for comprehensive amendments to criminal law instead.

We need to keep in mind that rape is an extremely under-reported crime.

A large number of victims choose not to go to the police out of embarrassment, for the fear that their allegations would be dismissed and because of the intimidation of court procedures.

In these challenging circumstances, when a woman accuses a powerful entity of rape, we must in all earnestness give her the benefit of doubt.

In a country where crimes against women like domestic violence and rape largely go unreported, it takes courage and a steely resolve to accuse the boss of the establishment you are working with, as the professional hazard of reporting your boss is being fired from your workplace and, worse, being cancelled from society.

The Bishop Franco case is another example of how we as a society have a role to play in perpetuating rape culture. The rape culture signs are everywhere. It’s there in our Bollywood lyrics that objectify women’s bodies by trivializing sexual advances (Boys will be Boys!)

It’s there in the sexually explicit jokes and a culture where victims are shamed for their own assault.

Previously, there were other religious leaders, who were given the marching orders also — Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh — head of the Dera Sacha Sauda. In 2017, he was sentenced to twenty years in jail for rape and also accused of committing sexual assaults on many of his followers.

Swami Premananda of Tiruchirapalli — an Indian religious leader convicted and sentenced to two life sentences for the rape of 13 girls and murder in 2005.

This is not the first time a religious institution has been accused of protecting its powerful within the institution. If he had been convicted a few days ago, Mulakkal would have been the first Catholic bishop to have been convicted of rape in India.

Two years ago, during the #MeToo movement, a former minister, MJ Akbar, lost his job because a journalist filed a complaint after 11 years while Bishop Franco continues to be Bishop. Lets also scratch our memory further
— a rising star of Bollywood. Shiney Ahuja, too, faded into obscurity after his domestic help accused him of rape.

The reason why the Me Too movement was so successful was that it ran on the premise of believing the survivors whether it took them ten years or fifteen to share their sagas and getting their perpetrators to justice.

In the Bishop Franco case, the nuns ready themselves to approach a higher court of justice. On the brighter side, the nuns are not going to get bullied nor intimidated by their appeal and till the highest court of India decides this case, Bishop Franco will continue to be eyed with suspicion.