Saints are born in the service of god and men. Not women, it is clear. Last week, a PIL in the Delhi High Court seeking investigation into the sexual abuse by Catholic priests was curtly dismissed. The case revolved around a rape charge against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar. He was arrested in September 2018, but received a saint’s welcome on release. The nun got none: she and five supportive sisters were transferred to other convents. The Save our Sister (SOS) forum wrote to Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to help them. Whatever be the nuns’ ultimate fate, the position of women in religion is undoubtedly lopsided.
Both the judiciary and the Kerala government supported the rights of women to enter Sabarimala temple. The state gave police protection to some of the women, who included a few non-Hindu activists. The judiciary and the police relentlessly give justice to women exploited by men of god. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the once-revered head of Dera Sacha Sauda is in jail for raping women followers. So is the notorious Asaram Bapu. The colourful Swami Nithyananda is awaiting trial after bail.
However, not all women victims are lucky. The Church protects its own, so does the sharia. Sacred offenders get massive support and love from the laity like Mulakkal did; followers showered him with rose petals after his release in October. The chargesheet against him has not been filed. The Delhi HC ruling is in sharp contrast with the attitude of Western canonical authorities towards their shepherds. The sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church keeps claiming many ecclesiastic scalps and the diocese’s huge amounts of money in out of court settlements worldwide.
Why is Bishop Franco Mulakkal considered a saint and not a sinner? The religious leaders of India’s minorities, powerful vote banks, have drilled into their followers that their faith is under siege. The murderous actions of trolls, nutjobs and lynchpins of the fringe-Right only prove their point. The battle of Christianity is between God and the Devil, with man’s soul as the prize. Since priests are divine agents, there is widespread reluctance among believers to question them, since it would mean not only questioning God but also their own faith. In Mulakkal’s case, this blinding dilemma has brought him official protection.
In contrast, the Vatican is conservative towards nuns: unlike other churches, it has no female priests. Many women join the convent to escape poverty. Some are uneducated and are assigned menial jobs. They are the secretly underprivileged of the church, exploited as in any other women’s shelter. But convents are God’s shelters. Doubt is a perennial catechism in Christianity. If the Bishop cannot be doubted, give the nun the benefit of doubt. For God’s sake, at least.