Kottayam: Five nuns from a convent in Kottayam Kuravilangadu seminary staged a protest on September 8 in front of Kochi high court against Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was accused of raping a nun on multiple occasions between 2014 and 2016. This might be the first incident in the history of churches where nuns held a public protest. One of the nuns who led the protest now faces allegations from the church, accusing her of leading a life “against the principle of religious life.”

Many reports portrayed the nun rape case as a singular event that talks about sexual abuse as an issue. While stories, protests, comments, trolls dilute the issue until the word goes weaker with time, nuns continue to suffer quietly.

Also read: Rape accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal's audacity: 'Nuns will apologise this Christmas'

The Associated Press (AP) in an investigation uncovered the history of sexual abuse within the church that nuns continue to endure. Many of the nuns believe that abuse is commonplace and state that most of them can recount fending off sexual advances of priests.

The quiet walls hide stories of nuns who were raped by priests on multiple occasions. It’s not difficult for one to fathom that there are cases of rape in the church, but the silence of the church amid cries of foul is appalling.

Why were these stories of abuse kept inside a dark room? Was it to safeguard nuns from shame or to safeguard the reputation of bishops and priests? What hides behind the veil of piety are stories of lust and shame where opaque cloaks are thrown to cover up the suffering until the walls are silent once again and the cries are forgotten.  

Also read: Kerala nun rape: Punjab Police suspect Father Kuriakose's death is unnatural; case filed

AP reports that most of the nuns are scared to reveal the truth to the outside world. Many believe that would they be isolated if they speak the truth. Nuns join the convent to devote their lives in faithful service and lead a better life, but ordeals they face behind closed doors make their spiritual journey take a turn for the worse.

Many nuns who were approached by MyNation for comment refused to say a word. Though there was enough to suggest that they were asked to remain silent on the issue for the sake of keeping their faith. For nuns, their life remains in service to the Lord and speaking out or going against orders is going against the church is considered equal to worshipping Satan.

While silence is the armour that sisters use to protect themselves and their vocation, nuns are left with scarred memories. Some continue to serve their time protecting the men who abused them.

Tim Sullivan (AP) reported the story of a nun who spoke in anonymity - She had travelled to a New Delhi retreat centre. A priest was there to lead the sisters in reflection.

She talks about the retreat in a quiet voice, afraid to be overheard in the empty room: “I felt this person, maybe he had some thoughts, some attraction.”

He was in his 60s. She was four decades younger.

One night, the priest went to a neighbourhood party. He came back late, after 9:30pm, and knocked at her room.

“’I need to meet you,’” he said when she cracked open the door, insisting he wanted to discuss her spiritual life. She could smell the alcohol.

“You’re not stable. I’m not ready to meet you,” she told him.

But the priest forced open the door. He tried to kiss her. He grabbed at her body, groping wherever he could.

Weeping, she pushed him back enough to slam the door and lock it.

It wasn’t rape. She knows it could have been so much worse. But decades later she still reels at the memory, and this tough woman, for a few moments, looks like a scared young girl: “It was such a terrifying experience.”

Afterward she quietly told her mother superior, who allowed her to avoid other meetings with the priest. She also wrote an anonymous letter to church officials, which she thinks may have led to the priest being re-assigned.

But nothing was said aloud. There were no public reprimands, no warnings to the many nuns the priest would work with through his long career.

Unlike the above story, even when nuns chose to speak out on protest on the acts committed by Franco Mulakkal, the church’s stance was not one that sought to protect and help the nuns.

The Kerala Police arrested Franco Mulakkal on September 21 on charges of raping a nun of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation in Kottayam 87 days after a sister filed a complaint alleging rape and sexual harassment. 

Meanwhile, church authorities turned the tables against the nun who participated in a public protest. 

Sr. Lucy has been directed to appear before the church headquarters on January 9 and give an explanation. Among other allegations Sr. Lucy Kalappura was asked to explain her participation in a channel discussion and was questioned for writing in “non-Christian newspapers,” and publishing a book of poems using Rs 50,000 without the permission of church authorities.

Lucy's stand has led to many discussions in the state about the freedom and the individual rights of a nun. The truth lies in the irony that many nuns end up protecting the reputation of the church while the church they serve fails to protect them.