KERALA IS UNIQUE in being the only the state on the Indian mainland where the Catholic Church exercises real political power, something which it hasn’t shied from wielding. Parties are naturally wary about antagoni sing the Church, since it has that most prized of possessions in a democracy— the transferable vote. That is the reason you see the CPM-led government, which espouses an ideology that has disdain for religion, being so cautious when it comes to arresting the Jalandhar diocese Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who has been accused by a nun of multiple rapes over a span of two years.
The first time the Bishop was questioned, the Kerala police reluctantly took an appointment and, in the comfort of his residence, did the interrogation. One imagines them politely hemming and hawing as they got to the subject at hand. Now that the public uproar has reached tipping point, they have had to once again move against him. And this time, they have asked him to come at leisure after a week on September 19th. Would a normal man, accused of rape, be treated with such kindly consideration? You already know the answer to that. This is a country where the norm is catch first, get a confession beaten out of you and then be in jail as an undertrial until the fullness of time. To hear the Kerala police talking of resolving the contradictions of the different stories of the various participants in this case before making an arrest is impressive but also funny. It is what the police should be doing in every case but is a courtesy reserved only for Bishops. If India is a nation where the idea of due process of law is a joke, then everyone should suffer equally.
What is the stand of the Church in all this? Some priests have admirably come out saying that the Bishop must relinquish his position so that justice can be seen to be done without fear or favour. But superior authorities, like the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India or the Vatican, vacillate even when it is at a moment of its history where every time the Church does not speak it damns itself. Evidence of cover-ups of child abuse by priests spanning continents have piled so high that God in heaven could reach out and touch it.
The actions of the Church’s office bearers are a reflection on the institution itself. It is made worse by the alleged victim, the nun, also being a part of the Church. Even if they don’t choose to take sides, they have a duty to facilitate a clear course for justice. If the truth must come out, then the dispute has to be between equals. That the power equation is skewed is evident in congregations coming out to protect the Bishop by tarnishing the character of the nun. And, as Bishop, there is the danger of any action against him being seen as an action against the religion and the Church. It is the factor that prevents the police from getting the freedom to arrest him. The Church must also act because when your flock is being hunted by your wolves, you can’t leave it to only God to take care of it.