Out of nowhere, Catholics face a leadership crisis on two fronts

The Catholic Church in India has just faced one of the most challenging summers in its history. In particular it is the Syro-Malabar Church, which traces its origin in India back to St Thomas the Apostle, which is the focus of the crisis. About a quarter of India’s 20 million Catholics belong to the Eastern rite church. The temporary removal of two of its bishops by the Holy See has left these Catholics asking major questions over their leadership.

The case of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar, Punjab, has gripped India since March. He is accused of raping a nun repeatedly over a two-year period during official visits to the convent of the Missionaries of Jesus, in the Keralan town of Kuravilangad, between 2012 and 2014.

The nun, who was mother superior at the convent, said she wrote to the Church authorities, including the papal nuncio in Delhi, about the alleged rape but received no response. The Sister, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said she saw little option but to pursue a criminal case against the bishop, who denies the allegations.

A fortnight of protests by several nuns outside Kerala’s high court in Kochi followed, during which members of the laity, women’s groups, anti-religious groups and anti-Christian factions joined forces, petitioning the court that the Sister’s case be pursued by the federal law enforcement agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, rather than by local police ­– who, they claimed, could be complicit in a cover-up. However, the court ruled against them and said Keralan police were best suited to investigate.

Meanwhile, the Sister’s congregation, the Missionaries of Jesus, was accused of conducting a smear campaign against her. Statements and photographs were leaked to the press that appeared to break the law against disclosing a sexual abuse victim’s identity.

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