Hours after she was expelled from the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, Sister Lucy Kalappura, a 56-year-old nun, who had protested against a Bishop accused of rape in 2018, said that she had been given a week to leave her convent in Kerala’s Wayanad district that was her home for the past 16 years.
Kalapurra was 17 years old when she left her home to become a nun in the Roman Catholic Church, living in convents in Kerala for almost four decades.
“I left my family years ago and dedicated myself to the Church. I have nowhere else to go,” said Kalappura. “I had given all my savings, including my salary from the school where I taught, to the Congregation.”
Sources within the Franciscan Clarist Congregation said that the order from Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial authority of Roman Catholic Church, was in Latin, and Kalapurra’s dismissal was for violating the vows of obedience and poverty.
Sources said that the Congregation of Oriental Churches in the Vatican had confirmed the decree of dismissal on July 9, 2019, for the first time. However, Kalapurra had approached the Supreme Tribunal on November 5, 2019, challenging the decision. On February 12, 2020, the Supreme Tribunal rejected her appeal. A second appeal was filed in March 2020, and was examined by the Supreme Tribunal on May 18, 2021. The Supreme Tribunal had issued the final order rejecting the appeal on May 27.
In 2018, Kalapurra stood by a nun who had accused Franco Mulakkal, the then Bishop of Jalandhar in Punjab, of raping her repeatedly from 2014 to 2016. Kalapurra was among the very few nuns and priests who took part in the protests held in Kerala and Jalandhar, demanding the arrest and trial of the Bishop. A second nun, in a witness statement given in 2018, said that the bishop had hugged and kissed her in 2017.
Franco was arrested in September 2018 and his trial is underway in a court in Kottayam in Kerala. And still, in December 2020, the Thrissur Archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala included his photograph in their 2021 calendar.
Kalapurra believes that her taking a stand against Mulakkal is the reason that she has been expelled from the Franciscan Clarist Congregation.
“There were attempts last year to throw me out of the convent in which I reside. I obtained an injunction order from the sub-court in Mananthavady against eviction. That injunction is still valid. Now, I am left with a room and an old kitchen with no furniture or utensils of the Congregation as fellow nuns live separately and refuse to even engage in normal conversations with me.”
In January 2019, Kalapurra bought a car and started driving around Mananthavady town, where she taught Mathematics to Class 11 and 12 at the Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School. She retired in March 2021.
Kalapurra shot to fame after chapters from her book Karthavinte Namathil (In the name of Christ), her autobiography in Malayalam, were published in a weekly magazine named Samakalika Malayalam in February 2019, with details about the sexual assault she had survived at the hands of priests, relationship between nuns and priests, homosexuality inside the church, and child abuse by priests.
Kerala’s Catholic Church constitutes 61 percent of the total 6,141,269 Christians in the state. In her book, Kalapurra wrote that she was sexually assaulted and molested four times, thrice by priests and once by a vicar.
Kalapurra said that she is translating her autobiography into English and she is preparing to write a second book.
“My book was an attempt at a fair criticism of the Church based on facts. But, sadly, those who voice their concerns against the wrongdoings of Church authorities are either expelled or sidelined,” she said. “The faithful are criticising me, saying the autobiography contains explicit details of sexual abuses and assaults. But what I attempted was institutional reforms.”
Sadly, those who voice their concerns against the wrongdoings of Church authorities are either expelled or sidelined.
Kalapurra’s Congregation said that her claims were false and that she was expelled in May 2019 for publishing the autobiography, questioning the authority of the Church in panel discussions on television, writing in non-Christian weekly and dailies, getting a driving license, availing a loan and buying a car.
In August 2019, Kalapurra became the first Indian nun to pledge her body to a medical college to study anatomy.
Kalapurra said that she had deputed an Italian lawyer to represent her before the Apostolic Signatura but he told her that the Signatura had remained dysfunctional because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kalapurra said that her side was not presented to the Apostolic Signatura, she did not believe its verdict to be correct, and she intended to challenge her expulsion in Indian courts.
“If they dismiss me arbitrarily, I will challenge this in the Indian courts as I have nowhere to go and settle,” she said.
On Monday, Ann Joseph, superior general of the Fransiscan Clarist Congregation in Kerala, told reporters that Kalapurra had exhausted all three levels of appeals within the Catholic legal system and that her dismissal was final. Joseph said that Kalapurra had to leave within a week of receiving notice (Monday), and staying on would be considered as trespassing, a crime punishable under Section of 441 of the Indian Penal Code. Kalapurra would only receive the amount handed over to the Congregation as patrimonium, her legal inheritance, when joining it.
“I informed her that her right to continue as a Congregation member is now and irrevocably extinguished. She is no longer entitled to wear the religious habit of the Congregation now onwards,” said Joseph.
As per prevailing practice in Kerala’s Catholic church, people who are expelled, or rebellious, or commit suicide, do not get a traditional burial in the Church cemetery. Instead, they are buried in a space named the “Themmadi Kuzhi” (rebel pit) outside the cemetery.
Given that she has pledged her body to science, Kalapurra isn’t worried about Themmadi Kuzhi.
“I have already given in writing my willingness to donate my body to the medical college in Kozhikode for surgical and anatomy-related studies,” she said.
I have already given in writing my willingness to donate my body to the medical college in Kozhikode for surgical and anatomy-related studies.
KA Shaji is a journalist based in South India. He writes on human rights, environment, livelihood, caste and marginalised communities.