Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal has stepped down and the process of a fresh inquiry can begin into the accusations by a nun that he had sexually assaulted her on several occasions. By dragging its feet over the issue for a long time since the brother of the nun complained about the charges of sexual shenanigans swirling around the bishop, the Catholic Church had not distinguished itself. Further, the congregation of the Missionaries of Jesus shamed the victim by releasing her photograph along with internal probe findings, an unheard-of transgression that is also against the law of the land. Only after the victim appealed to the Vatican in an emotive letter through the Apostolic Nuncio to India was the Church seen to move towards adhering to the simple principles of natural justice. The bishop should have stepped down until a proper inquiry is held and he can get back his position only if he can prove the innocence that he has been professing unabashedly through the media.
As representatives of over 20 million Catholics, who form a sizeable section of over one billion Catholics in the world, the top of the Indian Catholic Church hierarchy had a duty to the public to have acted much quicker. By surrendering to conspiracy theories about revenge politics within the clergy, the Church had seemed to be complicit in belittling the serious charges of sexual misconduct against the head of the Jalandhar diocese, one of 174 in the country, until the Nuncio was called to Rome. The allegations of sexual assault relate to a period between 2014 and 2016 and it may be hard to gather the kind of credible evidence to condemn or exonerate the accused. But the Catholic Church, with its accent on celibacy within the clergy, has a far greater responsibility to institute probes into such serious charges as have been brought by one brave nun prepared to stand up for her rights.
Pope Francis, known for his reformist zeal and progressive outlook in touch with modernity, has been under severe pressure around the world with regard to charges of sexual abuse of children by the clergy. In fact, the evidence rounded up and findings released by a grand jury in Pennsylvania in the US points to the abuse of more than 1,000 children by 301 predator priests in just that one state. The sexual scandals of the Church may date back to several centuries but the fact remains that the current Pope has to act to preserve his Church rather than see his silence or inaction interpreted as further self-preservation, towards which millions of dollars have already been paid in settlements of claims. The cross has stood as a moral compass for a little more than a couple of thousand years and Pope Francis is the one who has to be seen to save the Church from the depredations of a minuscule minority of priests who harm children or break their vows of celibacy. Unbiased probes to establish the truth would be a start, much as it will in the case of Bishop Mulakkal.