It could have been sheer coincidence that on the very day Pope Francis made his first public comment about Catholic nuns being sexually exploited by Bishops and priests, a document from the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council making much the same points should find itself in the public domain. Though neither “named names” it would be silly not to conclude that the case of Franco Mullakal did not figure in the formulations. Together they serve as a slamming of the presumably-powerful Catholic Bishops Conference of India which backed off from taking Mullakal to task when a nun in Kerala first levelled her charges against the Bishop of Jalandhar. In opting to take a cowardly “let the law takes its course” the CBCI has the ignominy of one of its members now being out on bail, having to regularly report at a police station under a blaze of media attention ~ even if some of that has tapered down. Public memory may be short, but it does have a tendency to erupt every now and then. And there has been much collateral damage too. The “victim shaming” by some of Mullakal’s backers triggered a mini-revolt by a few other nuns, a separate court case, and worst of all caused deep fissures in the community. It is difficult to determine which set of revelations are more damning. While from Kerala come suggestions that other women working with the church have also been abused, a Vatican-based publication lists various corrective steps already taken but expresses a desire for a high-powered inquiry commission.

The local document lists several guidelines but neither prescribes a regime of penal action that would be initiated when complaints first surface, or a mechanism to which nuns and others could turn when first exploited. As happens across the board, women find it difficult to muster the courage and strength to say “Me Too”. From an Indian perspective there is need to assess the impact of economic conditions ~ it is an open secret that in Kerala, and the tribal belt of Central India, many families send their children to the seminary or convent to ease the financial strain of educating them. While men do quit the seminary/church at a later stage, women find the social stigma of “ex-nun” difficult to bear. Some kind of rehabilitation needs to be worked out to avert their being exploited ~ sexually or otherwise.

From a global angle the insistence on celibacy needs another look ~ missionaries no longer toil in “incivilised” regions, other Christian denominations have successful clergymen who maintain happy families. There is no reason why the Catholic Church must keep its doors shut to modernisation. Admittedly that would be revolutionary, and turn Catholic practices and traditions on their head. Yet it would also put an end to rampant hypocrisy.