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'He Tried to Kiss My Chest': The Long and Ugly History of Priests Preying on Nuns in India

In the summer of 2018, a senior nun said that the head of the Latin diocese of Jalandhar, Bishop Franco Mulakkal, had raped her multiple times.


Kuravilangad (Kerala): The nuns talk of Catholic priests who pushed into their bedrooms and of priests who pressured them to turn close friendships into sex. Across India, they talk about being groped and kissed, of hands pressed against them by men they were raised to believe were representatives of Jesus Christ.
At its most grim, nuns speak of repeated rapes, and of a Catholic hierarchy that did little to protect them.
The Vatican has long been aware of nuns being sexually abused by priests and bishops in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa, but it has done very little to stop it, The Associated Press reported last year.
Now, the AP has investigated the situation in India and uncovered decades-long history of nuns enduring sexual abuse from within the church. Nuns detailed the sexual pressure they endured from priests; nearly two dozen nuns, former nuns and priests, and others said they had direct knowledge of such incidents.
Still, the problem is cloaked by a powerful culture of silence. Many nuns believe abuse is commonplace, insisting most sisters can at least tell of fending off a priest's sexual advances. Some believe it is rare. Almost none talk about it readily, and most speak only on the conditions of anonymity.
But this summer, one nun forced the issue into the open.
When repeated complaints to church officials brought no response, the 44-year-old nun filed a police complaint against the bishop who oversees her order, accusing him of raping her 13 times over two years. 
A group of nuns launched a public protest to demand the bishop's arrest. The protest divided India's Catholic community. The accuser and the nuns who support her are now pariahs, isolated from the other sisters, many of whom defend the bishop.
"Some people are accusing us of working against the church," said one supporter, Sister Josephine Villoonnickal. "They say, 'You are worshipping Satan.' But we need to stand up for the truth."
Some nuns' accounts date back decades. Like the sister, barely out of her teens, teaching in a Catholic school in the early 1990s. It was exhausting work, and she was looking forward to time at a New Delhi retreat center.
The nun is a forceful woman who has spent years working with the poor. But when she talks about the retreat her voice grows quiet.
One night, a priest in his 60s who was supposed to be leading the nuns in reflection went to a neighbourhood party. He came back late and knocked at her room. She could smell the alcohol.
"You're not stable. I'm not ready to meet you," she said. But the priest forced his way in, tried to kiss her and grabbed at her body. Weeping, she pushed him back enough to slam the door.
Afterward, she quietly told her mother superior, who let her avoid meeting the priest again. She also wrote anonymously to church officials. The priest was re-assigned.
But there were no public reprimands, no warnings to other nuns. She was too afraid to challenge him openly.
"For me it was risking my own vocation," she said.
Caught at this intersection of sexual taboo, Catholic hierarchy and loneliness, sisters can be left at the mercy of predatory priests. It can be particularly hard for sisters from deeply conservative Kerala.



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