SOMEBODY RAPED NOBODY – MADNESS!
When our kids were quite small they regaled visitors to our home with this story. “There were three friends named Somebody, Nobody and Mad. One day Somebody killed Nobody so Mad went to the police station and blurted out that Somebody had killed Nobody. The inspector was not amused and shot back – Are you mad? Yes, I’m Mad, “ said the complainant”. Imagine the exasperation of the police inspector.
I was reminded of this seemingly innocuous story after reading about the acquittal of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar diocese in the alleged case of rape of a nun, formerly the Superior General of a Congregation under his diocesan jurisdiction. If nobody was raped by somebody then I too am mad.
I have been following this story for the last few years and had even petitioned the Papal Nuncio for the protection of the witnesses. I have also read several articles and “comments” on the “acquittal” of him who I had nick-named Frightening Franco. A friend also sent me the 289-page judgement that I have not been able to read fully for the paucity of time. Before going into the nitty-gritty of the judgement I have a few apt observations, more allegorical than argumentative.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar diocese
There is an old English proverb – Don’t miss the wood for the trees. Wood here means a forest. A fan of National Geographic TV wanted to see a tiger in real life; having seen so many graphic images in the comfort of his sitting room. He spent a large amount of money to fly to a Reserve Forest and went around there for three days. All he saw was the tail of a tiger in the bushes. He later posted this on his Facebook page, “What a waste of time and money. Couldn’t see any tigers. Too much jungle”! The judge who passed the acquittal order because he could not “separate the grain from the chaff” seems so much like that armchair tourist. The “inconsistencies” in the victim’s statements apparently obscured the reality of the alleged crime!
It reminds me of two other similar “judgements”, one in the Salman Khan hit and run case, and the other Aarushi Talwar murder. Salman’s SUV ran over and killed some pavement dwellers. His bodyguard, a police constable and the sole witness, died mysteriously. Thereafter the judge concluded that nobody ran over those hapless victims.
Similarly, there were only four people in the locked house of the Talwars, where their daughter Aarushi and the servant were brutally murdered. The only other people there were Aarushi’s parents, in the next room, with a thin wall separating them. Yet the judge could not separate the grain from the chaff. So I am mad at such myopic judgements. In Franco’s case, there is also a huge dollop of misogamy.
I choose to look at the entire sordid episode from the following perspectives: (1) What is Rape? (2) What is consensual sex? (3) What is the relevance of the three evangelical counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience? Finally, what should Mad people like you and me do next?
WHAT CONSTITUTES RAPE? This is defined under section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Before 2013 it was defined as penile penetration by force, fraud, intoxication or misrepresentation. It now includes several other forms of non-penile sexual abuse or assault. By all accounts, the very first encounter between the victim nun and aggressor bishop falls squarely in the present definition of rape. I would not like to titillate my readers with a graphic or pornographic description. Remember that every time the victim re-reads what she went through she is re-living that hell. So let us show her that sensitivity. As legal commentators have said, even if subsequent acts were consensual, the very first act was definitely the crime of rape u/s 375 IPC.
WHAT IS CONSENSUAL SEX? When the alleged perpetrator of the crime is in a position of power or authority over the victim, then the element of consent cannot be presumed. It is an established fact that the bishop wielded unbridled power and authority over the victim nun. This is called a fiduciary relationship, as between a doctor and a health worker (Sec 376D), between a jailor and a convict (Sec 376C) or the person in charge of a home for women or children (Sec 376C).
We have heard of women being lured into sex with the promise of marriage and then being left high and dry. Such cases are now being treated as rape. In the cases of so-called godmen like Baba Ram Rahim and Asaram Bapu, their disciples were abused but complained much later. Their complaints were sustained and the criminals are now rotting in jail. In cases of clerical paedophilia courts in the USA have set a limitation of 30 years since the crime took place. Most of the cases now being reported in the USA and France are several years old. The victims remained in the closet for fear of social stigma or ostracisation. Courts across the world, therefore, do not consider a delay in reporting the crime as a ground for dismissing it. Yet in the instant case, the judge has held the “delay” as a ground to doubt the victim’s credibility.
He has gone to the extent of questioning the victim’s motives, stating that she and her companions were unable to strike a deal with the alleged perpetrator. What is wrong with that? It is common for the weak and marginalized to “compromise” with the powerful as they cannot fight them in a court of law, as is pretty obvious in this case.
This raises another critical question. Besides emotional blackmail, was there also a threat of financial blackmail and social ostracisation, thereby forcing the victim to continue pandering to the lust of the aggressor? In my humble opinion, this is not a case of consensual sex, but one of exploitation thereby falling in the category of rape.
WHAT OF THE EVANGELICAL COUNSELS? There is much talk of the Chastity/Celibacy angle. We also need to question Poverty and Obedience. We will begin with Chastity. The IPC gives an example of Mohanlal vs State of Madhya Pradesh (1997). Normally a woman would not falsely implicate a person for the offence of rape at the cost of her character. In Indian society, it is very unusual that a lady with a view to implicate a person would go to the extent of stating that she was raped.
The burning question therefore is, why would a nun accuse a powerful bishop of rape if it had not happened? It defies all logic. The only logical explanation is that there was an enduring sexual relationship, whether by allurement or consent, that later turned sour. This would mean that Franco is a sexual predator and not a celibate. On this ground alone, of moral turpitude and ecclesial indiscipline, Frightening Franco should be immediately removed from both episcopal office and the priesthood.
Next comes evangelical Poverty. If Franco can afford the luxury of staying in a five-star hotel and hiring the most expensive lawyers, even in the Supreme Court, then where is the question of evangelical poverty? Could the poor nun and her supporters stand up to the battery of well-heeled defence attorneys? Where is justice?
Finally, any talk of submission under the guise of Obedience is in this case absurd. Nobody is compelled to obey an unjust or immoral order.
WHAT NEXT? Let us not wring our hands in despair. There is still much that we can do. Here are a few practical suggestions:
1. An appeal against this pernicious judgement must be proffered in the Kerala High Court. This is the duty of the State, so we should pursue the matter with the LDF Government in Kerala. Competent lawyers in Kerala could also offer their services pro bono.
2. The Kerala Govt should also be petitioned to investigate the antecedents and finances of the judge. Has he been compromised in some way?
3. We must keep this case alive in the Catholic media by writing articles and letters.
4. We should strongly assert our views with ecclesiastical authorities that, even pending judicial review, there is enough circumstantial evidence for Franco to be removed from office. We should write to the Nuncio, the CBCI President, and the Apostolic Administrator of the Jalandhar diocese. Their email ids are given here: Apostolic Nunciature firstname.lastname@example.org Bp Agnelo Gracias email@example.com Cardinal Oswald Gracias firstname.lastname@example.org
Let us not give up hope in our battle for justice for the victim, for the removal of black sheep from the ecclesial community, and for greater accountability and transparency in public life. We don’t want more cases of Somebody raping Nobody and driving us all Mad!
The Author : The writer is the Convenor of the Indian Catholic Forum that has persistently and consistently stood up for the reform and cleansing of the Church, the present case included.