This happened a few years ago. I got down from the Mayur Vihar Metro station and was walking towards my office. A car came from behind and stopped beside me, almost touching my arm. I was annoyed that the driver had brought the car dangerously close to me. “Mr Philip, where are you going? I can drop you”, said the occupant of the car.
He was Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was with the Delhi archdiocese at that time. I was surprised that he could identify me from behind and from a distance. It was a few weeks earlier that I had a memorable encounter with him. He was a speaker at a book release function, where I was in the audience.
When we met after the event, he asked me with a mischievous smile on his face, “Mr Philip, how come your moustache is black and your hair grey?” He, perhaps, thought that like Amitabh Bachchan those days, I had dyed my moustache.
Incidentally, my grandson Yohaan asked me recently why I did not dye my hair. He was flummoxed when I told him that I had dyed my hair white.
Likewise, I gave the bishop an equally mischievous answer, “My moustache is black because it is younger than my hair by at least 15 years”. The bishop had a hearty laugh and complimented me for my wit. I knew him from his days as a priest in Jalandhar.
He and a small group of priests visited me at The Tribune office in Chandigarh. During the discussions, he mentioned that Sister Alphonsa (August 19, 1910 – July 28, 1946) would soon become the first woman of Indian origin to be canonised as a saint by the Catholic Church and the first canonised saint of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, whose feast day is observed on July 28.
What’s more, he introduced me to his fellow priest who belonged to the family of the soon-to-be-Saint. This gave me an idea. I soon approached the priest concerned and commissioned him to do a cover story for the Sunday Magazine of the Tribune. His article virtually coincided with the canonisation ceremony at the Vatican. It was a proud moment for all of us at The Tribune.
You may wonder why I narrated these anecdotes. I did so as a disclaimer, because the bishop is now in the news for reasons which do not do him or the church proud. I would return to him in an instant.
The Catholic Church is not the only one to be embroiled in a controversy during the last fortnight. A Marthoma priest, posted in the US, was allegedly caught in the act by a secret camera, installed by the husband of a woman in his bedroom. The priest had begun going there to settle the differences between the husband and the wife.
The Malankara Orthodox Church was also rocked by a scandal in which a woman was alleged to have been raped by five — now four — Orthodox priests. My mother belonged to this church and I attended the Sunday school classes of the church. Therefore, I have an idea of some of the traditions of the church.
More important, I know one of the priests, who is alleged to have “raped” her last, as one of my relatives helped him in his pastoral duties in New Delhi. The priest had a reputation as a good counsellor.
He would give pre-marital spiritual counselling for couples. My relative, a medical doctor, would assist him in giving medical counselling. A marriage is solemnised only after the couple attends the counselling sessions. You may ask why such counselling is important.
In one incident that happened in the Capital, the bride offered the traditional glass of milk to the groom on their first night. In a lovey-dovey kind of mood, the man asked her to drink it first. The young bride did not understand him and drank the whole glass of milk in one go.
In anger, the groom gave her a thunderous slap and she screamed. Her shocked brothers gave him a thrashing, forcing the neighbours to call the police. When he should have been enjoying his first night, he was counting the bars in the police lock-up till his boss, a very well-known public figure, got him released from police custody.
To come back to the “rape” story, this priest allegedly went to Kochi by air, met the woman to be “raped” somewhere in the city, checked into a five-star hotel with her, stayed together for a night and at the time of settling the bill, found himself cashless as Prime Minister Narendra Modi would like everyone to be. He wanted the woman to use her credit card. She did, accordingly, and that was when the lid of the scandal was blown off.
Little did the woman know that the card was linked to her husband’s phone number. The moment the transaction took place, the credit card company informed her husband of the expenditure incurred through a short message.
For once her husband knew that she had not gone to the place where she was supposed to go and, instead, had spent a day at the hotel concerned. Now, my point is, can what happened be described as “rape”?
Rapes do happen. Serial rapes, too, happen, as when a wretched father raped his own daughter for weeks or months together, as reported in Delhi recently. I also read the sad case of an intellectually challenged girl who was serially raped.
Is the woman in question as helpless as the two women I mentioned? She is a high school teacher, who deals with hundreds of students everyday. It requires enormous courage to do so. True, when she began to be “raped” she was not a teacher. She was only 16.
A girl can be physically grown-up at that age and can have consensual sex. However, the law defines sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old woman as “rape”. So, it has to be agreed that she was “raped” at age 16.
In the ordinary circumstances, when such a terrible thing as “rape” happens, is it not usual for the girl to tell her parents, especially her mother? Why did that not happen in her case? Is it true that the man or boy who “raped” her at age 16 was her own boyfriend who, a few years later, became a priest? Can that be called “rape” by a priest?
To be knocked down by a car is not a sin. To knock down someone deliberately is a sin. Similarly, to be beaten is not a sin but to beat a helpless man or woman or dog is sin. In short, to be “raped” is not a sin but to “rape” is a sin. If what happened to her at age 16 was “rape”, then she had not committed any sin — cardinal or ordinary.
In the Orthodox Church, an adult person has to confess his/her sins to the priest at least once a year. The story of the woman in question is that she told the priest about her “sin” and it encouraged him to “rape” her. She kept on confessing and the priests kept on “raping” her!
As I mentioned, if the “rape” at age 16 was indeed a “rape”, it was not at all a sin to be confessed. She should have told her parents about the rape and they would have seen to it that the man was put behind bars. He would not have become a priest in due course.
At no point did this school teacher feel that she was being led up the garden path by some sex-hungry priests. She is not known to have made any complaint on her own. In fact, the first complaint was made by her husband when she paid money using his mobile-linked credit card. Otherwise, we would not have known about the rapes and I would not have written about her and the priests.
Her husband gave a complaint to the church authorities. I have not read the complaint but a senior official of the church, who read it and took appropriate action, has written that he also mentioned in his complaint that she had a relationship with two Hindu men.
I mentioned the religion just to juxtapose it with many write-ups in the social media portraying her as a victim of the doctrine of confession practiced by the Orthodox Church. Did the church try to cover up the scandal? At least, not to my knowledge.
One of my acquaintances, who is a retired IPS officer, is a member of the committee constituted by the church to probe the conduct of the priests. I did not discuss the case with this officer but I mentioned it to point out that no effort was made to erase the truth.
The priests concerned have been temporarily removed from their priestly duties. Under the Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence that, by and large, we follow, a person is considered innocent till he is proved guilty. The church could not have defrocked them just because someone made a complaint.
Now that the matter has reached the police, the inquiry by the church has only ecclesiastical, not legal, value. What is the case against the priests? That they blackmailed her to have sex over a long period of time.
When the Kerala Police have not been able to arrest the state’s most-wanted murderer Sukumara Kurup, they would need real, extra-terrestrial powers to prove in a court of law that what allegedly happened to her when she was 16 was not consensual sex but rape. And all her extra-marital affairs come under the category of rape.
To return to the bishop, a Catholic nun has alleged that he had sex — natural and unnatural — with her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. Thirteen is believed to be an unlucky number. Recently, we stayed in a cottage at a resort in the Havelock Island in Andaman and Nicobar. We noticed that after cottage number 12, there was 12A, followed by 14. There was no cottage numbered 13.
This nun was at Jalandhar until she was transferred to a convent in Kerala. Nothing seems to have happened between them at Jalandhar. Everything happened in Kerala. Assuming that what she says is true, can a person who reached the status of Mother General in her religious order be “raped” 13 times? Did she complain after the first, second, third, fourth and fifth rapes? Forget all of them, did she complain after the 13th rape?
The fact is that she did not. Her brother, who is a priest, says he had heard about the rape? Did he do anything to rescue his sister from endless rape? The point to be noted is that she was transferred to a convent in Kerala and she wanted to remain there. She did not want to be transferred from the present convent. She wanted to be given a higher post there.
She may have a point that she was being harassed by her authorities, as this can happen in any office. But, then, a nun or a priest is a person who is ready to serve the Lord or the church anywhere in the world. It is strange that she had been fighting transfer on various grounds. Once a person becomes a nun or a priest, he or she leaves the family to become part of the larger family of the church.
But in this case, the family members are with her through thick and thin. If the bishop had really “raped” her, he would have been vulnerable and would not have dared to take action against her. What I say is logical but illogical things can also happen because, many a time, life is stranger than fiction. Also, to quote the Bard, “something is rotten” in the Jalandhar diocese!
Nonetheless, the point that the nun always complained about the transfer and not the “rape” cannot be overlooked. Incidentally, she went to the police with her complaint only after the Bishop lodged a police complaint against her and her family members of threatening him with dire consequences if he persisted with his plan to transfer her from Kerala.
While the police will, hopefully, gather evidence about the 13 rapes which may or may not have happened, the point to be noted is that sex is never a one-sided affair.
Billions of men and women copulate every day for reasons I do not have to explain. This has been happening right from the days of Adam and Eve. But a modern-day Eve finds it convenient to claim that she was raped when she is caught in the act. Having said all this, let me also add, rape is an abominable act and the rapist should be severely punished. Let there be no mistaking about it.
(Published on 09th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 28)