‘Isolated’

Nun accuses prominent bishop of rape in India, exposing a culture of abuse and silence

Indian Christian nuns and Muslim supporters protest as they demand the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who is accused of raping a nun, outside the High Court in Kochi in the southern Indian state of Kerala on September 13, 2018. (AFP/Getty Images)

A year on from a stunning Associated Press expose that revealed that the Vatican had long ignored the rape of nuns worldwide by ordained Catholic priests, an Indian nun’s decision to speak out — and another AP investigation — has uncovered a similar history of silence and abuse within the predominantly Hindu nation. This summer, a 44-year-old nun accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal, the patron of her community of 81 sisters, the Missionaries of Jesus of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. Her accusations prompted a two-week public protest from her fellow nuns in rural Kerala — a Catholic stronghold — and an ongoing police investigation. Speaking to AP, many nuns said that they too had faced rape and other forms of sexual abuse. But unlike their sister, they didn’t dare to go public about what they had endured.

According to Sister Josephine Villoonnickal, a nun who moved back to Kerala to support her “survivor sister” in wake of her decision to come forward, few have come forward in support of the victim outside of her fellow nuns. The victim, Villoonnickal said, had told her sisters of what was happening and repeatedly reported his actions to church authorities before deciding to speak to police.

“‘Even if you have to die, don’t submit yourself,’” one priest told the victim during confession, according to Villoonnickal. ”‘Be courageous.’”

Mulakkal, who has denied the charges against him, was showered with flower petals from a throng of supporters upon his recent release from prison and return home.

Another nun, who like many others spoke only on the condition of anonymity, recalled fending off a sexual assault from the priest who was meant to lead her and her other sisters in reflection. He was in his 60s — she in her 20s. She spoke to her mother superior about the incident and wrote an anonymous letter to the church, but his behavior was never acknowledged publicy by authorities. But to speak out herself, she said, would have meant risking stigma, shame, or even expulsion. So she stayed silent.

“It’s a fear of being isolated if I speak the truth,” she said. “If you do that, you have to go against your own community, your own religious superiors.”

Speaking with AP, several other nuns shared their own stories of alleged abuse — and how the church, society, and shame conspired to silence them.

Read the full story at The Associated Press.

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