“Sister, if you can’t be strong against the injustice then why are you so strong in punishing the sisters who speak and stand for the truth and justice,” Alphy Pallasseril, a nun with the Missionaries of Jesus congregation, wrote to her superior-general, on 6 April 2018. The superior-general is the highest authority in women’s religious orders under the Roman Catholic Church. In the Missionaries of Jesus, the congregation under the diocese of Jalandhar, the position is occupied by Regina Kadamthottu. Alphy and Kadamthottu exchanged three more letters, before the conversation took an unpredictable turn. On 20 June, Kadamthottu wrote, “I have received a copy of the complaint by the Diocese given to the administration in Kerala, implicating you in the conspiracy to kill our own patron and Bishop of Jalandhar Diocese, Bishop Franco.”
That day, four other nuns of the congregation—Anupama Kelamangalathuveliyil, Neena Rose, Josephine Villoonnickal and Ancitta Urumbil—received the same letter. For over a year now, the five nuns have been pursuing an uphill struggle against Franco Mulakkal, the bishop of the Jalandhar diocese, in support of another nun from the Missionaries of Jesus, who accused Mulakkal of sexual exploitation. Alphy accused Kadamthottu of turning a deaf ear to the concerns raised by the nuns: “Sister your silence is not ‘Holy’ always and imprudent silence is harmful to many souls,” she wrote. Documents accessed by The Caravan—which include a trove of letters sent by the survivor, the five nuns, and Kadamthottu—reveal that Mulakkal and those close to him in the Jalandhar diocese enforced a culture of silence and obedience even among the members of the Missionaries of Jesus.
On 23 January, I travelled to the town of Kuravilangad in Kerala’s Kottayam district, to visit the St Francis mission home—a convent under the Missionaries of Jesus, where the six nuns are staying. Since June last year, Kuravilangad has come to be identified with the nun’s allegations of sexual exploitation. That month, the 43-year-old survivor filed a police complaint accusing Mulakkal of sexually exploiting her on 13 different occasions, over a period of two years, beginning May 2014.