Backgrounder: Crisis in Kerala’s Syro-Malabar Church

Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, leads a service at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Ernakulam. File

Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, leads a service at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Ernakulam. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

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 Alencherry, 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 (CPI-M)-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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Printable version | Sep 28, 2020 8:41:05 PM |

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