A day after revoking a transfer order issued to four Kerala nuns staying at a Kottayam convent with a colleague who was allegedly raped by Bishop Franco Mulakkal, the Jalandhar diocese of the Catholic Church today released a communique overruling the decision. The new letter stated that the transfer order still stands because bishops do not usually interfere with decisions taken by the Missionaries of Jesus' congregation.
"Even though the Congregation of Missionaries of Jesus is of diocesan right, the internal running of the Congregation is left to the General and her Council. The Bishop of Jalandhar does not normally interfere unless the overall interests of the Church demands such interference," the note said, adding that the order "to return to their rightful communities is not cancelled but stands".
This communique was issued by the Public Relations Officer Jalandhar Diocese Father Peter.
The letter also termed the action of the Mother General, who had issued the order, not as a transfer order but an "invitation to return to their rightful communities". The Jalandhar diocese also expressed its desire to see justice done in the courts.
The nuns in Kerala had received their transfer orders in March 2018 by the Missionaries of Jesus Congregation, months after they complained at several forums within the church against the bishop. Reminders followed last month as the nuns refused to accept the directives.
Yesterday's letter from Jalandhar diocese administrator Bishop Agnelo had been appreciated by the nuns, who have been resisting attempts at making them leave the Kottayam convent. "I am giving a directive to the General that she will not issue any letters to the five of you without my explicit permission... I like to assure the five of you that there will be no move from the Diocese of Jalandhar to oust you from the convent as long as you are needed for the court case," it read.
The nuns had then expressed relief over the church "finally walking up" to their need. "Our demand is simple: We should be left in peace and allowed to live in this convent together until the case is done," one of them told NDTV. The nuns announced the development during a protest organised by Save Our Sisters (SOS) in Kottayam on Saturday, even as they were demanding justice for the "survivor" nun.
Despite the fresh directions, the nuns have stated that they will continue to stay at the convent in keeping with Bishop Agnelo's letter.
SOS, an umbrella organisation of several 'reformation organisations' within the Church, has demanded that Bishop Franco Mulakkal be defrocked. "This is the reason why Franco Mulakkal needs to be de-frocked. If this is how senior authorities of the church are buckling under pressure, imagine how much pressure these nuns are withstanding," SOS joint convenor Shaiju Antony told NDTV.
"The Catholic Church is spending millions and holding an important meeting in Rome this month on child protection and the sex abuse crisis and child protection, but why leave abuse against women out? We need strong laws in churches to deal with this too," Dr Kochurani Abraham, a leading woman theologian, told NDTV.
Bishop Mulakkal is accused of raping the nun on 14 occasions from 2014 to 2016. Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, their colleague, was found dead at a church in Hoshiarpur's Dasuya in October last year -months after he deposed against the bishop in the rape case.