Investigation reveals nuns in Catholic institutions in India facing ‘decades of abuse’ by priests who enjoy protection

The Associated Press report on nuns facing abuse in Kerala throws light on the culture of support and rehabilitation that the perpetrators of sexual crimes enjoy within the Catholic Church.

The investigation by the Associated Press has made disturbing revelations about the precarious condition of nuns across India. The nuns have disclosed harrowing tales of sexual exploitations at the hands of those who they considered as the representatives of Jesus Christ.

Recounting their horrific ordeal, the nuns talked of how Catholic priests turned them into their object of desire, pushed them into their bedrooms and forced them to turn the professional relationships into sexual associations. The nuns also lamented how little the Catholic Hierarchy intervened to protect them from the monsters masquerading as the purveyors of Christianity in Catholic Churches in India.

The investigative report claims that many nuns have spoken of repeated rape the Catholic hierarchy ignoring the crimes.

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The Associated Press had reported last year how the Vatican was aware of the sexual exploitations of nuns by bishops and Church priests in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa.

The fresh investigation has now revealed the decades-long history of nuns stoically putting up with the sexual abuse from within the church. Nuns listed down in harrowing detail the pressure they endured from priests for providing carnal pleasures, nearly two dozen nuns, former nuns and priests, and others said they had direct knowledge of such incidents.

Much to their chagrin, the problem is swept under the rugs by a powerful culture of silence pervaded by the dominance of Church hierarchy. Many nuns have internalised abuse as a part of their daily life, insisting most sisters can at least tell of fending off a priest’s sexual advances. Some believe it is rare. The nuns fear a backlash from the powerful priests and very few of them reluctantly agree to speak about their agony.

Up until now, there was a haze around the exploitation due to the prevailing culture of silence. However, the issue was brought to the fore by an unyielding nun. When multiple complaints to church officials were passed up, the 44-year-old nun filed a police complaint against the bishop who presides over her religious order accusing him of raping her 13 times over two years. Before long, a group of her fellow nuns embarked on a two-week public protest in India’s Catholic heartland, demanding the bishop’s arrest.

It was in June last year that a nun from the Kuravilangad convent had accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal of the Malankara Orthodox Church of raping her multiple times for years.

The unprecedented move by the nun drew severe criticism from various quarters. It virtually divided India’s Catholic community. The accuser and her supporters are now banished and treated as outcast inside the accuser’s convent in rural Kerala state. The other faction within the convent has alleged that the bishop is innocent and these accusations are part of the nefarious designs by the accuser to malign the church.

The report quotes the victim nun and her supporters in her defence say, “Some people are accusing us of working against the church, of being against the church. They say, ‘You are working on the instructions of Satan,’” said one supporter, Sister Josephine Villoonnickal. “But we need to tell the truth,” she added. “We want to serve the church till our age permits and die as sisters,” she said.

As per the AP report, some of the stories of sexual exploitation date back decades. One nun, barely out of her teens used to teach at a Catholic school in the early 1990s. Nuns usually go for a retreat before they renew their vows. The incident that happened with this nun is of one such retreat in New Delhi. A priest was there to lead the sisters in reflection during the retreat.

One day, the priest, in his 60s, came back in an inebriated state from a party in the neighbourhood. He called out this nun who was barely in her 20s with the pretext of discussing her spiritual life. As soon as she opened the room, the priest kissed and groped her. She mustered courage and slammed the door before anything worse happens to her. The nun registered her complaint but no official reprimand or action was initiated against the priest.

Almost all horrendous stories of sexual advances by bishops and priests have yielded no substantial action. In fact, the those standing up against this unholy behaviour exhibited by the priests are cornered, isolated and harassed by the Church authorities. They are forced into silence either by the power of Church authority or by the reason of ignominy.

Even in the case of Bishop Franco Mulakkal in Kerala,  Sister Anupama, who was spearheading the support for the victim was heckled. Catholic federation had then threatened that those nuns going against Bishop Franco will be thrown out. Father Augustine has also issued warnings of disciplinary actions by the Church for supporting the rape victim and going against Bishop Franco. Bishop Franco was arrested after over two months of the victim filing a police complaint and was also granted bail soon. Upon his return, he was welcomed by his diocese in a grand ceremony.

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