Updated: August 9, 2019 2:05:57 am
The Catholic clergy in Kerala seems unwilling to reconcile with the nuns who protested in public against a bishop accused of rape. On Wednesday, Lucy Kalapura, a nun with the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC), was served a dismissal order — ostensibly because she learned to drive, bought a car on loan and published a collection of her poems. The decision to dismiss Sister Kalapura was reportedly taken on May 11 by the FCC, which waited for approval from the Vatican before ordering her to leave the convent in 10 days. The FCC said the nun has been expelled because her lifestyle violated “the vows of obedience and poverty” which she refused to correct despite repeated warnings.
This explanation sounds absurd and especially so since the church has been threatening action against the five nuns who supported a nun who filed a police complaint last year, accusing Franco Mulakkal, the bishop of Jalandhar diocese, of raping her. The clergy has rallied behind Mulakkal, and tried to silence the complainant as well as other nuns who stood by her. In an unprecedented act, nuns, attached to different congregations, staged a public protest in Ernakulam, Kerala when the state police sat on the complaint. Mulakkal, who had accused the complainant of blackmail, was arrested only after public pressure mounted. The clergy seems to have been shaken up by this open challenge from within, that too by nuns, who are expected to function under the supervision of male priests. When the attempts to persuade the nuns to retreat from public forums failed, the clergy sought to transfer them to different, distant centres, which they have resisted.
Mulakkal, who continues to hold the office of bishop, has the right to claim innocence, of course. But the church should not show prejudice against the complainant, or the nuns who have stood with her. It must wait for due process to conclude and not take sides. The move to transfer, and now expel, the nuns who have spoken out against harassment, is a regressive step and a signal that it prefers to protect male privileges within the clergy at all costs. That a significant section of the laity has been sympathetic to the nuns is a sign that the church can’t continue to privilege the voice of priests over nuns. In the past, nuns who have crossed the red lines drawn by the church have chosen to walk out voluntarily. Kalapura’s apparent defiance indicates a welcome shift on the ground that the Church must take note of.
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