By Advaita Kala
There is a #MeToo story that has not received the attention it deserves. Whilst it is inappropriate to suggest a hierarchy of violation, the disregard for the ordeal of the nun who complained and those who supported her – including Father Kuriakose, a key witness who met with sudden and unexpected demise – is alarming and sets a dangerous precedent of selectivity in this powerful campaign.
On June 21, 2018, a nun filed a police complaint of rape against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of the Missionaries of Jesus (Jalandhar Diocese) after the church authorities ignored her complaint. For a nun to step out of the establishment and seek justice outside the Church, is significant.
And it took her long enough to do so. Nearly a year prior, the nun had approached an Archbishop (Ernakulam), Bishop (Pala Diocese) and her Mother Superior, but had received no response.
Archbishop George Alencherry’s office denied receiving the complaint, but the complainant nun released a letter that verified her claim. It was only after finding no path to justice within the labyrinth of the church that the nun took her chances with the law of the land.
Some would assume that this should have been her first option: however, much like the inquisitors who enquire why women take so long to report sexual abuse and harassment, those who question the nun’s reticence in seeking help outside the church are unaware of the vice-like grip of the church and its sensitivity to anything that it considers ‘dissent’.
While MJ Akbar’s protracted resignation (three days) justifiably triggered anger and outrage, the church’s inaction for over a year has not raised the hackles of the commentariat and activists. This is not about balancing narrative, but the denial of support to a woman and those who stand by her.
Father Kuriakose showed immense courage in speaking for the nun and died a suspicious death this week. He had before his demise, raised concerns over threats to his well-being. It turned out not to be enough.
The BCI (Bishops Conference of India) published sexual harassment guidelines in September 2017, recognising the workplace status for organisations under the Church, which would also apply to nuns. It is another matter that according to a news report, Catholics are not aware of this safeguard.
However, that the Church recognises workplace status makes the case of the complainant nun a compelling one and typifies the harassment and exploitation of women at places of work.
With the unnatural death of Fr Kuriakose, the case has taken a sinister turn. As mentioned, before his passing the good Father had raised alarm bells over his personal security and a systematic smear campaign had been unleashed on the complainant nun and four others who supported her. The media failed in reporting with vigour that her complaint was followed by the testimony of others who also pointed out ‘malicious intentions’ that amounted to sexual harassment by the Bishop. The Kottayam DSP has confirmed the existence of these allegations.
As in the MJ Akbar instance, the focus on the multiple versions that emerged regarding his behaviour from his time as a journalist resulted in his having to step aside. Similar rigour by the media and activists, in this instance, would have impacted the Bishop’s ability to get bail and spared survivors of sexual assault and abuse the trauma of seeing visuals of the hero’s welcome the disgraced Bishop received on his release.
It is important to note that the case against Bishop Franco is not an isolated instance of alleged church complicity: in February 2017, the Church was rocked by the arrest of a priest, Robin Vadakkanchery, in Kannur, Kerala for raping and impregnating a sixteen-year-old. In that case, the father of the victim accused church authorities of forcing him to confess to the crime to save the priest.
All over the world, aggregating complaints by women who have had similar experiences with predatory men are considered compelling, as ‘proof’ in many instances is hard to produce. Since these interactions take place in privacy and usually without witnesses, these testimonials are vital in validating the original complaint. We have seen this play out most recently in the Bill Cosby trial leading to the fall of the once beloved TV dad.
The #MeToo campaign is empowering for its immediacy and its support of women who dare to speak out. However, sustained focus must and should be directed at the Kerala nun’s case for justice to be served. The nun not only takes on a powerful and international lobby, that has been exposed the world over for suppressing sexual transgressions, but also articulates the character of church authorities in multiple cases of this nature.
Not to mention the death of Father Kuriakose, a brave man of God who stood by the beleaguered complainant, must be explained.
Today, the Bishop is back in his robe, received a hero’s welcome, and a witness against him is dead. It should have been #TimesUp for him, instead it’s the nuns and those who support them who shrivel further into insignificance and fear at the sinister turn this case has taken and a narrative that has galloped away from them.
Advaita Kala is an author, screenwriter and a columnist.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are the author’s personal opinions. These do not reflect the views of Yahoo and Yahoo neither endorses nor assumes any responsibility or liability for the same.