When Shepherds are Silent, the Sheep must Speak
Reflections on 2018, the year gone by
The Year of Our Lord 2018 was an annus horribilis for the Roman Catholic Church in India, specifically the Roman Catholic Clergy in Kerala, Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KCBC), Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), Roman Catholic Bishop Franco Mulakkal, Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, and Cardinal Oswald Gracias. It is not that some of the men in frocks were caught with their pants down – which can be dismissed or at least explained away as individual aberration. No, it is the silence of the brotherhood of the pink frock that makes it a coverup. And coverups, as even children know, are evidence of institutional complicity, connivence and condonation rather than individual weakness. They go right to the top, tarring all in the know and all in positions of responsibility.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas SFX, Secretary General, Catholic Bishops' Conference of India has the tagline from Winston Churchill in his letters: ‘Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing, but of reflection’. Where does one start… with the multiple sexual abuse and rape of a housewife by a group of priests violating the confidentiality of the confessional and defiling the sacraments of confession and marriage, or the repeated sexual abuse of a Roman Catholic Nun by a Roman Catholic Bishop… or the shower of petals that greeted him on his release, or the ‘brotherhood’ that ensured prison visitations by fellow bishops but none for the nun, or the sudden death of a prominent supporter-witness?
Never in living memory has the idiotai (as the faithful are derisively referred to) been so thoroughly exposed as idiots, and the laity well and truly laid. Else why did Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam–Angamaly and Head of the Syro–Malabar Church think he could get away with denying that he knew about the abuse and feign ignorance despite the fact that the nuns had come to him, he had prayed over them and later even counselled them over the phone? Did he think the the idiotai would not find out that he had been in the know, was part of the cover–up and, in the ultimate insult to intelligence of the idiotai, blatantly lying through his teeth despite recorded evidence? Did Cardinal Mar George Alencherry learn nothing from being stripped of administrative powers by the Pope for corruption in land dealings on the demand of his parishioners earlier in the year?
The brotherhood of the frocks of many colours first feigned ignorance and denied knowledge of the issue (the infamous Alencherry tapes put paid to that lie), raised ‘jurisdictional’ limitations (Cardinal Mar George Alencherry is from the Syro–Malabar Church, Bishop Franco Mulakkal is from the Latin rite, but then what about the papal nuncio and the Pope?), offered to buy out the survivors (caught on tape, and under police investigation), and filed false cases against the survivor, witnesses and their families. Despite the sister survivor knocking at every ecclesiastical door there was no response. These include personal complaints and letters to priests, bishops, and the papal nuncio (ambassador) to India. Even the Pope himself was hand-delivered a letter at the Vatican, with about 1,000 signatures of the faithful, appraising him of the facts and pleading for his intercession. All to no avail. It is only during the police investigation into the false case filed by Bishop Franco Mulakkal, the sister survivor was forced to part with copies of the letters written to the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and the truth was exposed. Only after that did the secular police do what the Roman Catholic brotherhood, the Princes of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Earthy Representative of Christ, should have done in the first place – start an impartial investigation.
The brotherhood went into overdrive, along with their surrogates, using their usual tactics of isolation, defamation and character assassination. The evidence so far has been so overwhelming that the brotherhood of the frock have been thoroughly exposed and collectively defrocked in the minds of all right thinking people, including the faithful, who came out to the streets in support of the survivor sister. This is no mean attitudinal change. To understand the absolute mind control the Roman Catholic clergy exercise over their flock, the case of a 16 year old girl ‘confessing’ that her father made her pregnant in 2017 is illustrative. In reality, it was the result of long–term sexual abuse of the minor by a Roman Catholic priest Father Robin Vadakkumchery. She did it to ‘save the honour’ of the Roman Catholic priest and the Roman Catholic clergy (which she, mistakenly, equated with the Roman Catholic Church). In this case, the sisterhood of the frock – five nuns, Sisters Tessy Jose, Ancy Mathew, Aneesa, Lissy Maria, and Ophilia – helpfully used their medical facilities at Christuraj Hospital in Koothuparamba to cover–up the role of the priest, and sent the newborn to an orphanage run by a Christian management without the teenage mother’s knowledge. They are now serving jail time. Again, this was due to conscientious secular officials rather than fealty to Christian values of the brotherhood or sisterhood of the frock. It shows the depth of defilement and hollowing out of Roman Catholic institutions: from the church and the confessional, to the convent, hospital and orphanage, the debasement of sacred trust and sacraments, in addition to the absolute thraldom the faithful are kept in, incapable of independent thought or judgement, bereft of freewill, unable to distinguish right from wrong.
Ten years ago, in 2008, Sister Jesme was forced to quit her position as Principal of St. Mary's College in Trichur, Kerala and her Congregation of the Mother Carmelite (CMC), on exposing internally precisely this sort of corruption, sexual abuse, rape and complicity of the hierarchy but was brushed off by the same hierarchy. They even tried to brand her insane to get her admitted into a mental hospital. She details the experience in her powerful expose ‘Amen: An Autobiography of a Nun’, which the Roman Catholic Church discouraged the faithful from reading. However this time, unlike in the case of Sister Jesme, it has not worked. The sister survivor remains firmly within her congregation, despite several attempts to buy her off and, when that failed, to push her out through intimidation and petty harassment.
From the comfort of his perch two continents away, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India, as part of the organising committee of the Papal conference on ‘Protection of minors and vulnerable adults’ at the Vatican from 21–24 February 2019 piously writes that ‘Absent a comprehensive and communal response, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry on the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world. The first step must be acknowledging the truth of what has happened. For this reason, we urge each episcopal conference president to reach out and visit with victim survivors of clergy sex abuse in your respective countries prior to the meeting in Rome, to learn first–hand the suffering that they have endured.’ Significantly, his letter is only addressed to his ‘Dear Brothers in Christ’. Not one of his ‘dear brothers’ has visited the sister survivor, though they streamed to visit the much maligned beloved Bishop Franco Mulakkal. So where does it leave the ‘very credibility of the church’? The dog–whistle of the brotherhood – honouring the rapist in commemorative calendars, visitations, solidarity sermons, honouring the surrogates who abused the survivors – has insured precisely their intended result.
The latest salvo has been the 1 January 2019 order from the The Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese Apostolic Administrator Mar Jacob Manathodath to Father Augustine Vattoly, who was a prominent face of the nuns’ protests seeking action against Bishop Franco Mulakkal, to step down as the Convenor of Save Our Sisters (SOS) movement and asked not to support associations like Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency and to ‘respect those in authority and abide by its guidance and directions’.
The brotherhood has proved repeatedly that we cannot trust them with the sanctity of the confessional, the convent or the sacrament, nor trust them with our conscience, let alone to trust them to do the right thing. About 500 years to the day after the Protestant Reformation began in 1517, the Vicar of Christ realises that the time and circumstances of the Holy Roman Catholic Church are ripe for another reformation. Married clergy is not the solution when the problem is impunity. The desperate synods, conferences and consultations called by the Pontifex Maximus seem increasingly like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, a tone deaf dance of dinosaurs – out of sync with the times, out of sync with their flock, and out of sync with the values the humble carpenter’s son lived and died for.
On reflection, it is clear that when shepherds feign sleep the flock must awake. When shepherds silent keep, the sheep must speak. It is time for the laity to speak up and take back the church – for it is we who are the Church, the Bride of Christ – and not the clergy. It is time to practice what the brotherhood of the pink frock and white lace has so eloquently stated, but so abysmally failed to practice: Visit the survivors. Support them. Speak up now. Or be idiotai forevermore.