Order explains transfer of nun who spoke against rape-accused bishop in India

Muvattupuzha, India, Mar 11, 2019 / 05:42 pm (CNA).- Last month a provincial superior of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation explained that the recent transfer of Sister Lissy Vadakkel was unrelated to her acting as a witness in the case against a bishop accused of serially raping another nun.

Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jullundur was accused in June 2018 by a nun of the Missionaries of Jesus of raping her during his May 2014 visit to her convent in Kuravilangad. In a complaint to police she alleged that the bishop sexually abused her more than a dozen times over two years.

Police in Kerala had charged Sister Alphonsa Abraham, superior of the FCC’s Nirmala Province, based in Vijayawada, and three of her deputies, with the wrongful confinement of Sister Lissy, The News Minute reported Feb. 22.

Sr. Alphonsa stated that Sr. Lissy, 53, had been staying in a guest house in Muvattupuzha “for the last 14 years … in her personal capacity and not for any work associated with the Vijayawada Province.”

“During her stay there, she had established a relationship with the nuns of the Kuravilangad convent and gave a statement to the police against Bishop Franco Mulakkal clandestinely,” the provincial superior wrote. Kuravilangad is located about 20 miles south of Muvattupuzha.

Sr. Lissy was given a transfer order Jan. 25. She was transferred from Muvattupuzha to Vijayawada, some 700 miles away. Sr. Alphonsa said that Sr. Lissy did not arrive in Vijayawada until Feb. 9.

Sr. Alphonsa said she was unaware Sr. Lissy had made a statement to police about Bishop Mulakkal when she first issued the transfer.

Sr. Alphonsa said that after receiving the transfer, Sr. Lissy wanted to visit her sick mother in Kerala, and they went together. They met with the superior general of the FCC, with whom Sr. Lissy argued, and Sr. Alphonsa took her to the hospital where Sr. Lissy’s mother was staying.

“Sister Lissy then reached the Muvattupuzha convent on February 17 evening, while her brothers came the next morning, threatening and asking us if we would transfer anybody who gave a statement against Bishop Franco,” Sr. Alphonsa said.

Sr. Lissy told police that at the Vijayawada convent, her mobile was taken away and she was kept in a room for a month. She also said she was kept from visiting her mother, she was tortured, and she was threatened with being institutionalized.

Sr. Lissy’s brother told ucanews.com that his sister” escaped the Vijayawada convent and arrived in Kerala Feb. 16, while Sr. Alphonsa told the outlet that the nun’s statement to police was “mere fabrication.”

Kerala police had gotten involved in Sr. Lissy’s case after her brother reported her as missing, saying she “was untraceable for more than two months,” Matters India reported. The nun was at the Muvattupuzha convent when she was located by police.

Save Our Sisters Action Council, a group supporting nuns critical of Bishop Mulakkal, have claimed that Sr. Lissy’s transfer to the convent in Andhra Pradesh is “part of a larger agenda to eliminate witnesses in the case” against the bishop, The News Minute reported.

Another member of the FCC has been warned over acts of disobedience, including a protest of the handling of the accusation against Bishop Mulakkal.

Sr. Ann Joseph, superior general of the community, sent a letter of warning Jan. 1 to Sr. Lucy Kalapura. Sr. Lucy is accused of leading a life “against the principles of religious life” by disobeying a transfer order, publishing poems after having been denied permission to do so, buying a vehicle, withholding her salary from the congregation, and participating in a protest against Bishop Mulakkal.

Bishop Mulakkal was arrested Sept. 21, 2018, but was released on bail in October. A police investigation is ongoing, and the bishop has been temporarily removed from his responsibilities as Bishop of Jullundur.

Several nuns began protesting in Kochi Sept. 8, 2018 how both police and the Church had responded to the accusation against Bishop Mulakkal.

The Missionaries of Jesus is based in the Diocese of Jullundur, and the Bishop of Jullundur is its patron.

In January, the superior of the Missionaries of Jesus asked five members of her community who have been protesting Bishop Mulakkal to transfer out from the Kuravilangad convent. All but one were being asked to leave Kerala, Scroll.in reported.

But the nuns were told Feb. 9 by Bishop Agnelo Gracias, apostolic administrator of Jullundur, that “as far as it lies within my power, there will be no move from the Diocese of Jalandhar to oust you from the Kuravilangad Convent as long as you are needed for the Court case”, according to The Caravan. He added that the superior general was not to send them letters without his permission.

Yet the diocese’s communication’s director, Fr. Peter Kavumpuram, shortly after said that because the Bishop of Jullundur does not normally intervene in the Missionaries of Jesus’ internal affairs, the superior general’s transfer order “is not cancelled but stands.”

The five nuns remain at the Kuravilangad convent. Fr. Kavumpuram has said that if the nuns do not obey their superior, “Action will be taken against them based on the Constitution of the congregation. I cannot tell you what kind of action it will be at this point.”

On Oct. 22, 2018 Fr. Kuriakose Kattuthara, who testified in support of the nun’s claims against Bishop Mulakkal, was found dead under mysterious circumstances. Foul play has been alleged by members of the priest’s family, but a final autopsy report has not yet been reported.

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