Cri­sis in Ker­ala’s Syro-Mal­abar Church

The Hindu - - NATION - Hi­ran Un­nikr­ish­nan

A nun’s rape and vic­tim­i­sa­tion charges against Ja­land­har Bishop Franco Mu­lakkal of the Syro-Mal­abar Church has landed the nu­mer­i­cally strong church into the vor­tex of its worst cri­sis in re­cent his­tory.

Is­sue un­rav­els

The is­sue be­gan to un­ravel on June 23 this year when the Ku­rav­i­lan­gad Po­lice in Kot­tayam district reg­is­tered a case on a pe­ti­tion sub­mit­ted by Fr Peter Kavumpu­ram, PRO, Catholic Dio­cese of Ja­land­har, on be­half of Bishop Franco Mu­lakkal ac­cus­ing the nun’s brother of hav­ing is­sued a death threat against the Bishop. Four days later, the nun, at­tached to the St. Fran­cis Mis­sion Home near Ku­rav­i­lan­gad, filed a com­plaint ac­cus­ing the Bishop of hav­ing sub­jected her to sex­ual abuse on sev­eral oc­ca­sions since May 5, 2014.

The po­lice recorded the vic­tim’s state­ment the next day and she un­der­went a med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion at the Med­i­cal Col­lege Hospi­tal, Kot­tayam. The po­lice ver­i­fied the vis­i­tors’ reg­is­ter of the mis­sion home and con­firmed the Bishop vis­its on all the days stated by the nun. Fol­low­ing this, Room No. 20, the scene of the al­leged crime, was sub­jected to an ex­am­i­na­tion. The nun’s state­ment was recorded un­der Sec­tion 164 of CrPC by the Ju­di­cial Mag­is­trate of Changanassery and a look­out cir­cu­lar to pre­vent the Bishop from leav­ing In­dia was is­sued on July 10.

Since then, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion has cov­ered the Bishop of Pala, also in Kot­tayam district, and Car­di­nal Ge­orge Alancherry, who has his seat in Kochi, be­sides sev­eral priests and nuns. The Bishop has ve­he­mently con­tested the nun’s al­le­ga­tions, and the Mis­sion­ar­ies of Je­sus, the con­gre­ga­tion to which the nun be­longs, has openly ques­tioned her mo­tives. How­ever, with me­dia fo­cus on the al­le­ga­tions re­main­ing in­tense, the nun’s al­le­ga­tions have found strong res­o­nance with the pub­lic, leav­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion team in a spot and the Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia-Marx­ist (CPIM)-led Left Demo­cratic Front (LDF) gov­ern­ment al­most de­fence­less in the face of grow­ing pub­lic out­rage.

Ma­jor con­tra­dic­tions

The in­ves­ti­gat­ing team has claimed that there are ma­jor con­tra­dic­tions in what the nun, the Bishop and oth­ers in­volved in the case have told them. In its re­port to the Ker­ala High Court, the team had flagged th­ese con­tra­dic­tions and sought time to tie-up the loose ends. The High Court, which had been moved to se­cure an or­der for a Cen­tral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (CBI) probe into the al­le­ga­tions, gave the in­ves­ti­ga­tors some breath­ing space by hold­ing that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on track.

How­ever, with five nuns and sev­eral mem­bers of the laity launch­ing an in­def­i­nite sit-in at Kochi to press for the Bishop’s ar­rest over a week ago, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion team has been left with few op­tions. It has sought the Bishop’s ap­pear­ance be­fore it on Wed­nes­day. The Bishop has handed over charge of the Ja­land­har dio­cese to oth­ers, pos­si­bly an­tic­i­pat­ing ar­rest af­ter the in­ter­ro­ga­tion.

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