'Isn’t a nun also a citizen of India, entitled to justice and protection from the court?' asks Sister Lucy Kalappura, speaking to The Quint. Sister Lucy was expelled from the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC), for extending support to the survivor in the Bishop Franco Mulakkal case.
Since early September 2018, Kerala has been witnessing an extraordinary protest by Catholic nuns against Franco Mulakkal, who was accused of raping a nun. Sister Lucy has supported the survivor from the beginning of the ordeal.
Much to their shock, an additional district and sessions court, on 14 January 2022, acquitted the Roman Catholic bishop of the charges.
“Every nun devotes her life and everything to the congregation. And when such an unfair practice happens, shouldn’t the court be protecting us? This is illegal, unfair and atrocious,” argued Sister Lucy.
The Judgment Is an Insult to the Judiciary: Sister Lucy
Sisters Anupama Kelamangalathuveliyil, Neena Rose, Josephine Villoonnickal, Ancitta Urumbil, and Alphy Pallasseril, residing at the St Francis Mission Home, Kuravilangad in Kerala’s Kottayam district, have been living in lockdown, well before the pandemic struck. Since they decided to support a sister from their congregation, in her fight for justice, they have been shunned by the church authorities.
A nun, on condition of anonymity, said that the survivor is “completely shocked and paralysed” because she feels let down by the court.
“This is a battle between the powerful and powerless. So the court should have looked at this case from the lens of the victim. It seems as though the court took advantage of her powerlessness,” she said.
Sister Lucy pointed out, “Looks like the court has researched on how to find the nun guilty, instead of the accused. This is injustice! She risked her life to speak up against such a big congregation. She wanted to bring out the truth."
“A helpless woman is fighting against a man with a lot of money, power and political connections. This judgment is an insult to our judiciary. Had the bishop's driver or any other person been the accused, would the court have treated him this way? They would've definitely punished him.”Sister Lucy to The Quint
Father Augustine Vattoly, the convenor of the ‘Save Our Sisters’ Forum (SOS) said that the least the court could do is to ensure that the bishop is not given any church-related responsibilities, now that he has been acquitted.
“As per the structure of the Catholic Church, the bishop of the diocese is all-powerful. He is the unquestioned authority of the church. But according to our religious text, there should be no taint on a man of such high position. There is a lot of doubt and opposition to the judgment among the public. Many strongly believe that he committed this heinous act and so he should not be given any responsibilities,” he added.
Shunned, yet Fighting for the Survivor
While Sister Lucy is in the forefront of this fight, she also has her own ongoing struggle with the court and the congregation in Kerala, that has so far taken over three years.
The Kerala High Court, on 14 July 2021, had orally suggested to Sister Lucy that she may have to vacate the convent in Wayanad in view of her security, as she was no longer a member of the FCC.
The convent had accused Sister Lucy of indiscipline, claiming she had been writing poems, publishing books, driving a car and supporting the survivor in the Franco case.
But Sister Lucy argues that even as a nun, she should have the freedom of conscience to demand justice for an outraged fellow nun.
Sister Lucy had told the court that she had challenged the order of eviction against her before a civil court, which is expected to come up for hearing in February 2022. Till that is decided, she said she wished to continue staying at the convent.
The court, however, said the only plea before it was for police protection and it was willing to grant the same as long as she was not staying at the convent.
Sister Lucy, who has served at the convent for over 40 years, explained that while it has been "extremely risky" to stay at the convent where she is shunned by all, she believes she should not be evicted.
“The nuns here consider speaking to me as a sin, so I am ostracised. But it has become the norm to throw out anyone who speaks up against the congregation, even if we have truth on our side," she said.
"So many nuns have faced this backlash and so many are still being treated this way. I want to change this arrogant attitude of the congregation. And for that I need the court to lend support and change this attitude."Sister Lucy to The Quint