BARELY A day after a Catholic priest in Kerala’s Wayanad district barred a nun from performing church duties for participating in a protest demanding the arrest of a rape-accused Bishop, he was forced to recall his decision — by angry members of his own parish.
On Sunday, Father Stephen Kottakkal of St Mary’s Church in Karickamala had ordered Sister Lucy Kalappura to keep away from distributing Holy Communion and holding Catechism classes.
On Monday, the church under the Mananthavady diocese witnessed unprecedented scenes: Around 200 parishioners, mainly farmers, stormed in and forced the priest to lift the ban on Sister Lucy, 52, who belongs to the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC).
“The direction to Sister Lucy to keep away from church duties has been withdrawn according to the demand of the people. On Sunday, I was forced to issue such a direction after a few parishioners demanded that Sister Lucy, who had supported the nuns’ agitation, should not be allowed to assist at the church,’’ the priest said.
Sister Lucy was part of an agitation by nuns demanding the arrest of Jalandhar-based Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who has been accused of allegedly raping another nun. Mulakkal, who was arrested Friday, was remanded in judicial custody for 14 days by a court in Kottayam district.
Sister Lucy was barred by the church in Wayanad for being present at the protest venue and taking part in TV debates on the scandal.
Reacting to the latest development, she said it shows that “winds of changes are blowing in the Catholic Church”. “I have the support of the Christian community and I am not afraid of speaking the truth. As a person committed to religious life, I take pride in my stand,’’ she said.
Describing the events at the church Monday evening, a parish member, who did not wish to be identified, said “things started going out of control” before the 60-member council meeting could start.
“Around 200 people stormed to the premises and asked the priest to withdraw his decision on Sister Lucy. The priest sought 10 days to think about it, but the agitated gathering said they would him give him only 10 minutes. They wanted the priest to give a reason for barring the nun, and he had no answer. When they warned that the issue would be taken out of the church, the priest agreed to recall the ban,’’ he said.
Welcoming the decision, Kerala Catholic Reformation Movement general secretary George Joseph said: “The church’s decision to recall the action against Sister Lucy is the real result of the recent agitation of nuns. Priests and bishops have disdain towards democracy in the Church. Now people have gained courage to question the clergy’s undemocratic and authoritarian approach.’’
The nuns’ agitation had forced police to speed up the probe into the allegations against Bishop Mulakkal, eventually leading to his arrest. On Monday, Mulakkal was taken to the Pala sub-jail in Kottayam, where he will share a cell with two other prisoners — one convicted in a case related to drunken revelry and another remanded in a clash over a property dispute.
“The cell is 4mx3m in size, with a small toilet attached. The Bishop has been provided with a mat for sleeping, a glass and a plate. He was given lunch today. He looked calm and mingled with the other inmates in the cell,’’ a jail official said.
Meanwhile, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) expressed “pain and grief” over the arrest. In a statement, the KCBC said the probe and trial should be impartial and hoped that the accused would get an opportunity to prove his innocence.
The council also hit out at the nuns’ agitation, saying the “wayside protest has pained the Catholic Church as it gave space for all anti-Church forces to insult the Church and the priesthood”.