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India's The Statesman Editorial

Bishop behind bars

/ 06:55 PM September 25, 2018

NEW DELHI — Even if that “action” is only temporary, the damage to the Catholic Church in India is permanent.

At the very outset it must be acknowledged that Franco Mulakkal may be enlarged on bail, that there is a distance between arrest and conviction, yet the case of the former Bishop of Jalandhar has so many troublesome convulsions that the image of the Church has taken a severe beating.

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That eventually the Vatican and the Catholic Bishops Conference of India stepped in is no comfort: more enlightened and responsible leadership would have averted the disgrace to which the entire Christian community has been subjected. It would come as no surprise if the political forces committed to making India’s minorities feel uncomfortable and vulnerable use the sordid events in Kerala to fuel the fires they lose no opportunity to ignite.

By abdicating its duty, the CBCI and other Bishops have shot themselves in the foot. It would be no exaggeration to conclude that the Catholic Church is now so deeply divided, both clergy and laity, that a massive leadership effort will be required to restore spiritual and material sanctity: henceforth suspicions will never be far from the surface.

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From where that requisite brand of leadership will arise is a query difficult to answer: customarily the Vatican remains aloof from internal national affairs (despite what the saffron forces allege) but this time around Pope Francis must get his aides involved (there are many Indians holding office in the Vatican) in the formulation of a credibility-restoration mission: particularly for Kerala where the population of an estimated 19 per cent has political potential that can be exploited.

“Exploitation” is at the core of the crisis. If one nun came forward to accuse Mulakkal of sexual exploitation, the fact that five others joined/spearheaded the protest suggests that the “crime” is not uncommon: recalled is the courage of another nun who wrote/published her story. It was no shock that several members of the clergy also participated in the public protests.

Exploitation was also evident from the manner in which another section of Church leaders set about assassinating the character of the nun in question ~ offering financial allurements to withdraw her complaint, unleashing a string of personal charges with a vicious gender bias. That while insisting he was innocent, and being framed, Mulakkal made no overt attempt to rein-in his supporters make him so culpable in public perception.

Finally the law is taking its course: the police may have initially been tardy but have examined over 80 witnesses, conducted intense interrogation, sought legal opinion before putting a case together. Some loose ends remain to be tied up. The law must now be permitted to take its course ~ as the Church wished. A stray ray of light has been provided by reports that after the arrest the nuns have called off their agitation. Will that facilitate the critical healing-touch?

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TAGS: bishop, Bishop of Jalandhar, Catholic Church, Franco Mulakkal, India
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