Sisters Nina Rose, from left, Ancitta Urumbil, Alphy Pallasseril and Anupama Kelamangalathuveliyil at the St. Francis Mission Home in Kuravilangad, Kerala, India, on March 8, 2019. Photo by Richard Tamayo.

KOCHI, India (RNS) — In the dirt courtyard of St. Teresa’s Women’s College, in this port city in the southern Indian state of Kerala, a group of nuns cast curious glances toward a knot of chatty first-year students huddled together. The young women are mindful not to speak too loud, lest the sisters overhear the topic of their conversation — the alleged rape of a nun by the bishop who oversees a local religious order.

Bishop Franco Mulakkal, a native of Kerala, an enclave of Christians in predominantly Hindu India, is accused of attacking the nun nine times between 2014 and 2016.

What has made the charge of rape more shocking is the Catholic Church’s silence about the allegations.

“Clergy are to be respected no matter how bad,” said 17-year old Catherine, who asked that her last name not be used. “Whatever they do, it must be covered up by the church.”

Mulakkal is facing charges more than two years after the victim, whose name is being withheld, reported the alleged attack to church authorities. When no action followed, the nun approached several bishops, a cardinal and eventually the Vatican’s diplomatic envoy in India, telling them that Mulakkal had raped her while visiting Kerala from his diocese in the northern city of Jalandhar.

The bishop customarily stayed at the survivor’s convent in Kuravilangad, a city two hours’ drive from Kochi, when he returned to his home state.

A Catholic nun cries as she participates in a sit-in protest demanding the arrest of a bishop whom one nun accused of rape, in Kochi, Kerala, India, on Sept. 13, 2018. The protest followed a June complaint to police by a Missionary of Jesus nun who accused Franco Mulakkal, now the bishop of the city of Jalandhar, of repeatedly sexually abusing her from 2014-2016. (AP Photo)

The victim’s request to officials was not to prosecute the bishop, but to be transferred to a convent outside of Mulakkal’s authority. The nun’s congregation, the Missionaries of Jesus, is based in the Jalandhar Diocese.

Only after five of the victim’s fellow nuns staged a 15-day protest outside Kerala’s high court building in Kochi last summer was the bishop, who denies the charges, arrested. He has since been free on bail.

Mulakkal’s charges include unnatural intercourse, intimidation and illegal confinement. Police who led the investigation said the charge sheet includes statements from 83 witnesses, including a cardinal, three bishops, 11 priests and 25 nuns.

If convicted, Mulakkal faces the maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The case is the first sexual abuse case involving a bishop to go to trial in India.

The charges mark a significant victory for the nuns, who continued to demand justice despite intense — and increasingly threatening — pressure to remain silent.

“Bishop Franco was torturing the sister and all of us,” said Sister Anupama Kelamangalathuveliyil, barely audible over a roaring ceiling fan fighting the heat in a small, pale-blue sitting room at St. Francis Mission Home in Kuravilangad. “Our situation led us to have the protest, but it’s not that we are courageous. We saw that it is needed, otherwise our lives would be in danger.” She sat shoulder-to-shoulder with her sisters in dim daylight, facing a framed photo of Pope Francis on the opposite wall.

“If we did not come out, then our survivor sister would have collapsed — she was undergoing so much pain,” she continued. “Our congregation members isolated us; our congregation sisters are not supporting us. Those sisters who are supporting us, their superiors are pressuring them to stay silent.”

Speaking out alongside Kelamangalathuveliyil were Sisters Alphy Pallasseril, Josephine Villoonnickal, Ancitta Urumbil and Nina Rose. All said they never intended to embroil the Catholic Church in a scandal. When they learned of the survivor’s claims of abuse, they supported her efforts to raise a complaint with church officials.

“If the church was giving us justice, then we didn’t want to spoil its name,” Kelamangalathuveliyil said.

The bishop of the Indian city of Jalandhar, Franco Mulakkal, center, leaves after being questioned by police in Kochi, India, on Sept. 19, 2018. Indian authorities charged the Roman Catholic bishop with repeatedly raping a nun in her rural convent, a case that helped make the sexual abuse of nuns a major issue in the church. (AP Photo/Prakash Elamakkara)

Neither the Vatican nor the sisters’ order responded to calls asking for comment on the case.

Some church officials initially assured the victim they would address her complaint so long as she remained quiet about the abuse, Kelamangalathuveliyil said. When nothing happened, the nuns joined their sister in writing several letters to the Vatican — including one addressed directly to the pope — but received no reply. Finally, in June 2018, the survivor went to the police.

They were slow to act, too. It was three months before Mulakkal was arrested, largely at the prompting of the Rev. Riju Kanjokaran, an evangelical Protestant minister, who helped stage the nuns’ demonstrations, which came to be called “Save Our Sisters,” at the local diocesan seat in Kochi.

Kerala, red, is a state on India’s southern coast. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

Members of several Christian organizations and the five nuns drove two hours every day to Kochi to demonstrate. For two weeks in September, they sat in a main square holding signs that called for justice from the police and the church. Mulakkal was arrested Sept. 21.

Kanjokaran said he was surprised at how quickly the nuns drew support. “Over 1,000 people and organizations came and gave solidarity to this particular movement. It was not just Christian organizations — it was residents and people of every religion.”

Some officials of the Syro-Malabar Church — the historic Eastern church here that is in full communion with Rome — criticized the protests. The Rev. Davis Madavana, a priest at St. Mary’s Syro-Malabar Cathedral in Kochi, said the protesters were “looking for reasons to quarrel with the church.” He also argued that the nuns shouldn’t have taken to the streets when there is a proper procedure for filing complaints with officials.

“We support them, but not the way they want to deal with the situation. They did not have to put the church through such public ridicule,” he said, overlooking the long, tree-lined courtyard of his basilica from a shaded balcony. “They wanted to show themselves as martyrs.”

Bishop Joseph Kariyil, who heads the Cochin Diocese in Kochi, said the media used the demonstrations to paint the church as corrupt. While he agrees that many instances of sexual abuse go unreported, he believes plenty of reported cases are not legitimate. Those who wait years to report assault to the church should be investigated carefully, he said.

“Suppose after 40 or 50 years, you say, ‘He patted me like that and I feel violated.’ At that time you didn’t feel that way. But years later you remember that negatively, whether that man did it purposefully or not,” Bishop Kariyil said.

The Rev. Augustine Vattoly, a priest in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese and an organizer of the September 2018 Save Our Sisters protest in Kochi, Kerala. Photo by Richard Tamayo

Supporters of the nuns insist it’s the church’s severe culture of silence and the unquestioned authority of clergy that keeps survivors quiet. The Rev. Augustine Vattoly, a priest in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, has been critical of what he considers a toxic system.

“The brutal thing you should understand is how this bishop got this arrogance. It is the unquestioned power that he wields,” he said. “In the Catholic Church he is 100 percent sure that he will not be questioned by this ‘little, simple creature — this nun.’”

Laypeople are taught not to question their religious superiors, and nuns learn to be obedient, Vattoly explained. “It’s because of the age-old belief system that asking questions of priests and bishops is sinful — that they will go to hell,” he said.

For young Catholics like Catherine and her friends, even asking simple questions can be scary. She said the nuns who run her college, who are of a different order than the victim, discourage curiosity and reprimand students who display it. “They say, ‘Calm down. You are the children of God.’”

Her classmate Renu Dominic, 18, remains a practicing Catholic but says young people are questioning their ties to religion. They’ve come to expect church corruption and are exhausted by it, she said.

Vattoly agrees. He said that if the bishop is not convicted, 90 percent of young believers will walk away from the church. The institution, he said, will need to overhaul its values and structure to keep them.

“If there is transparency, there is credibility,” Vattoly said. “If there’s credibility, then future generations will continue to believe.”


The sexual abuse and rape of nuns by bishops and priests is an old and tragic ussue.

It is compounded by the silence of religious superiors and the hierarchy is another scandal.

The RC church has failed all its vunerable people.

The Vatican is a rogue “statelet”.

The Italians should revoke the 1929 concordat so that the V should be subject to Italian, European and international law.


Its the church’s long silence that damned them hugely.They knew the abuses in our school for years still they kept silent to themselves. Our parents didnt know school’s history when sending their kids. It was only later we found out ourselves by witnessing etc as we couldn’t tell our parents cos we go home very 3 or months. That made it very difficult.
Catholic Church wasn’t honest nor upfront with us ranging from religious orders (male/female) to priests. I found the nuns who were quite brutal bordered with cruelty and sexually frustrated as well. They heaped their cruelty, frustrations etc on ourselves something that i never understood it completely until Tuam babies saga and adoption movie re nuns.
One documentary movie that came quite close to our experiences re abuses in deaf school was Mea Maxima Culpa. i could relate to it in some parts of it as it hit me to the core. It was that stunning realisation after watching that movie that the Vatican knew it all along but did nothing to stop it. It was powerful and an eye opener.
I remembered one day a christian brothers feared that one boy went to the gardai but that certain bother superior went into hiding and no interpreter that time, They were afraid if one boy spilled the beans re their nocturnal activities but boys couldn’t do it cos they were illiterate and no sign language interpreters that time. So they took an advantage of that. Even Bishop mc quaid visited our school which he had set it up as the nuns ran it. I don’t remember any of this until i saw a photo when age three that time.
writing on this was/is cathartic as it enables me to express myself out to the unsuspecting public. The reason that the Vatican got away so many thousand times was their state status in which they used their immunity to a great effect. So much of their mealy mouthed & platitude apologies. Once you strip the Vatican to stateless then they turn into powerless normal organisation with their internal club rules. Then they would be exposed to prison time, courts, less money, no charity status as i could go on. One final piece of advice that a black priest gave me was ‘church let you down many times as it did to him’. In other words, you can’t simply trust the catholic church. I am considering or on the verge of leaving the catholic church.


DU@11:33: “On the verge of leaving…” to go where?
Consider the Panorama programme of a few nights ago showing that the CoE has exactly the same abusive characteristics as the RC religion. So what is it about religion? Are other religious organisations similar?
And if these abusive traits are so prevalent in ministers of religion, what questions arise as to their integrity of belief in the tenets of their professed religion? Surely such widespread abusive failings cannot simply be interpreted as individual and personal human frailties? How does one explain the evident widespread abusive collusion? After all these ministers of religion are supposedly imbued with faith and belief in the requirements of leading a compassionate and just moral life in accordance with their professed religious beliefs.
Is it all a con? If so, how can that be explained? Might it be that while a significant number of honest clerics of integrity remain true to their original faith beliefs and pastoral mission, there is also another cadre of clerics of all religions who initially embarked innocently on priestly training imbued with youthful idealism, but have since departed from those ideals? Why might that be so? Could it be that having come to a realisation that much of religious belief is simply “smoke and mirrors” many clerics have become too dependent on the material, psychological and emotional benefits of their priestly caste and are unable to abandon its privileged status?
If such a cadre of renegades exists, to what extent will their behaviour be dictated by sound personal ethical and moral principles in the absence of former restrictive controls of subsequently abandoned religious belief?
You do well DU to question much that we were spoonfed.


Deaf User,
I was very sad to hear of all you and your companions suffered.
By all means leave the RC hell, but don’t leave God.


Maybe hi the culture of India is a bit like Ireland where one bows thead and says nothing. It is not an excuse. I still can’t get me head around why the church on one side says ban the willy and on the other put it about like no tomorrow. Is it frustration for perceived lack of opportunity in the past hi.


Mornin Fly,
Begorra Fly methinks it’s called hypocrisy hi. Goin on since Adam was a lad. The clubs secrecy and silence is knowin and like rabbits in headlights there’s no knowin whata do there’s so much mess to mop up. Goin on th world over.
Bye fly hi.


What has happened to little Bob?

Was he the same year as Conor McCarthy who has left D&C marry a husband 2015?


Well, the “new” bishop has had about a year to get to know people and parishes so probably to be expected.
Something is really wrong with the selection and formation processes if priests are leaving 2 years after ordination. Maybe the focus needs to shift to parish-based on the job training with block-release for academic work.


The Bishops have announced that is what is going to happen training in the parishes.

The article was on this blog and looked like end of Saint Patricks National seminary.


6.31 hows the Parish going to train them if it has no true vision of what it’s aboutitself hi. Sacraments are not products. And no p R rubbish is goin ta make the church any slicker or more popular but. When parishes learn to pray then priests will be grown not manufactured but


Dublin priests are in a tizzy; there’s a rumor abroad that wee Timmy Bartlett is to be named as coadjutor of Dublin in the coming days. Yuck!


Does not say much about Dublin priests listening to gossip have they nothing better to do than listen to gossip.

It seems the new Archbishop of Dublin is most likely a serving Bishop and they are either in Ireland now or in Rome at the Curia.

Maybe + D martin is making him and Auxiliary since he needs two new ones, but really Dublin will get a New Archbishop and few Auxiliaries soon.

Now here is a thought for you all and that is the Holy see can move anyone so maybe + E Martin transferred to Dublin and made cardinal.

It is all guess work but will be shocked if there is any new diocesan Bishops for Ireland when diocese have to amalgamate now.

Bishop of Limerick I would put a bet on for Dublin as + Browne does not want it.


If that happens the Holy Spirit has abandoned Dublin absolutely! But then he has no influence in the RC outfit.


The former and missing, self-styled “Dean” of Belfast was another one for putting his name out and around for vacant or soon to be vacant dioceses 😂


5.50: More of your filth. Psychologically, when someone delights in giving descriptive commentary like yours, one word: moral perversion. You’re full of it.


Kevin Heery of Meath supposedly got angry with Kevin Connolly so the latter huffed all the way back to Clogher. A lover’s tiff! Pathetic


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