All of Kerala—and not just the Christians—are divided over the matter of Bishop Franco. Drawing room conversations routinely draw blood as relatives across gender and age, caste and class take positions on either side of the battlefield. Very few are fence-sitters, mainly because this is a headline that has everything: religion, rape and revenge. A powerful priest vs. a protesting nun. What Franco did to families was to split them up before the TV set. One half prays for him, the other half for her.
Clerics of any religion are not above reproach or the law —as proved by Swami Nithyananda in the south and Sant Whatever Insaan in the north most recently. To think themselves safe behind pure robes or to declare themselves above police enquiries is as foolish as their devotees staging protests and going on a rampage. If a finger is pointed, obviously facts should be studied and the matter sorted. By going all macho on the accusers, the accused weakens his own stand.
The small matter of consent that’s been flowing as jetsam and flotsam on the rickety river of feminism is gathering some current of late. Whether in personal life—as marital rape—or workplaces and now places of worship, no still means no. Gray areas do abound and some wrongly indicted, but by and large there is a blanket injustice being redressed.
Not as if all around the religious curve this was not happening from time immemorial, but it is now that women—and men!—have decided it is time to speak up; they are tentatively sure of a hearing. From self-declared cults to Buddhist monks, from orphanages to NGOs run by religious orders, admittedly there are opportunities for abuse.
A highly-placed individual, with the full might of an institution/boardroom behind him, chooses to bully and intimidate someone younger than him in age or junior to him in the system. Hmmm, haven’t we heard this before? Hasn’t it almost happened to us? Mentors can have hidden agendas. It is possible.
Amid the chanting and the rosary someone has cried out —how can the laity be deaf to that? Even the Pope has apologised for not just the years of abuse by his people but also the hiding of this very abuse. The abuse itself is barely reported, but the cover-up is the classic knee-jerk reflex of the stronger party.
When caught, all criminals are equal in the eyes of the law. And those confident of Franco’s innocence should happily welcome the probe, the investigation. Their hosannas should be reserved for the day, as they expect, he walks free. Doubt is part of faith.
Dissent does get personal. Your domestic help may have a story or two, your daughter may not have told you because she’d rather hate you silently, your colleague tells it to you like it’s a bit of gossip.... What you don’t know can’t hurt you, yes, but perhaps it is time you knew. When you can place yourself or a loved one in that vulnerable position, only then take a stand.