The New York Times
February 9, 2019
By Maria Abi-Habib and Suhasini Raj
When Bishop Franco Mulakkal agreed to personally celebrate the First Communion for Darly’s son, a rare honor in their Catholic Church in India, the family was overcome with pride.
During the ceremony, Darly looked over at her sister, a nun who worked with the bishop, to see her eyes spilling over with tears — tears of joy, she figured. But only later would she learn of her sister’s allegation that the night before, the bishop had summoned the nun to his quarters and raped her. The family says that was the first assault in a two-year ordeal in which the prelate raped her 13 times.
The bishop, who has maintained his innocence, will be charged and face trial by a special prosecutor on accusations of rape and intimidation, the police investigating the case said. But the church acknowledged the nun’s accusations only after five of her fellow nuns mutinied and publicly rallied to her side to draw attention to her yearlong quest for justice, despite what they described as heavy pressure to remain silent.
“We used to see the fathers of the church as equivalent to God, but not anymore,” said Darly, her voice shaking with emotion. “How can I tell my son about this, that the person teaching us the difference between right and wrong gave him his First Communion after committing such a terrible sin?”
The case in India, in the southern state of Kerala, is part of a larger problem in the church that Pope Francis addressed on Tuesday for the first time after decades of silence from the Vatican. He acknowledged that sexual abuse of nuns by clerics is a continuing problem in the church.
At a time when church attendance is low in the West, and empty parishes and monasteries are being shuttered across Europe and America, the Vatican increasingly relies on places like India to keep the faith growing.
“India’s clergy and nuns are hugely important to the Catholic Church in the West. The enthusiasm of Christians in Asia stands in stark contrast to the lower-temperature religion in the West,” said Diarmaid MacCulloch, a professor of church history at the University of Oxford.
But the scandal in Kerala is dividing India’s Catholics, who number about 20 million despite being a relatively small minority of a vast population.