An Indian Bishop has been accused of repeatedly raping a nun in Kerala during his visits to the Missionaries of Jesus Convent in Kerala.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal has been temporarily removed from his post 2.5 months after the allegations surfaced, in a slow action that has been condemned by many Indian people of all diversities.
Bishop Franco claims that the allegations against him are a “cooked up story to wreak vengeance” for the actions taken by him on various complaints received against the nun, however other members of her sisterhood have been protesting daily and support her allegations.
To enable himself to challenge the accusations against him Bishop Mulakkal has sought permission to stand down from his regular responsibilities. He wrote to Pope Francis explaining ‘I need time to fight my case’.
In a letter dated 16th September, Bishop Franco explained that he may have travel to Kerala several times and had to hand over the responsibilities for the Jalandhar Diocese across to a junior temporarily. Already the bishop has appointed a Junior priest all administrative responsibility for the diocese, for the period he will be absent ahead of his first visit to Kerala to face the charges made against him.
In a statement from the Vatican was released by the Catholic Bishop Conference of India, that said:
“The Holy Father has received the request of Rt. Rev. Bishop Franco Mulakkal to be temporarily relieved of his pastoral responsibilities in the Diocese of Jullundur,” the Catholic Bishop Conference of India said in a statement.
“Having considered all circumstances, the Holy Father has accepted this request of Bishop Mulakkal and has appointed the Rt. Rev. Agnelo Rufino Gracias, Titular Bishop of Molicunza and Auxiliary Bishop emeritus of Bombay, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Jullundur sede plena et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis,”
The nun in Kerala has alleged that she was sexually abused by Bishop Franco 13 times between 2014 and 2016 during his visits to a convent in Kottayam district, Kerala. She states that: ‘At first I had reported the attack to the superiors in the church, but after my call for justice fell on deaf ears, I was forced to report the crime to the Police.’
A crime was registered by the nun with the Kerala Police through a First Incident Report (FIR) the end of June 2018.
Despite no arrest having been made a police investigation is underway. On 19th September the bishop was finally interrogated by Kerala police for several hours and in a statement police said:
“We are trying to reach to a conclusion after solving numerous contradictions in the statements of all parties.”
In an earlier statement the police had said there were contradictions in the statements of the survivor, witnesses and the accused.
Still claiming his innocence however Bishop Mulakkal has launched counter-accusations against the sister’s character and stated ‘The case is nothing but a fictional story’. Meanwhile the Kerala High Court have allowed Bishop Mulakkal to apply for anticipatory bail.
There are also concerns about political inference in this investigation. The president of the Joint Christian Council, George Joseph, an organization protesting the delay in dealing with the charges and the treatment of the nun, said:
“Police are interrogating the the petitioner, not the accused, and we believe they are under pressure from political parties and the church.”
State politician, PC George has chimed in inferring the nun is a “prostitute” and questioning her delay in reporting the alleged rape to the police, saying “Why didn’t she complain the first time?” while completely ignoring her statement which describes her previous complaints within the church hierarchy.
Local Campaigner Ishwor Adhikari spoke to the BPCA, he said:
“The Church has kept itself at a safe distance, it has maligned the nun by revealing her identity which goes against section 228-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
“They have reprimanded the nuns who have continuously maintained a sit-in protest for the survivor and have shown little support for the traumatized nun – very obviously showing their support for the accused by doing so.”
“What is important is to question why the State delayed the investigation and legal procedures for this case.
By doing so, the State has jeopardised the complainant’s right to justice and safety and allowed the accused to protect himself by the help of his powerful political and religious allies.
This delayed action on it’s part does not fall in line with the country’s Constitutional values and principles.”
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:
“In difficult times such as these when large bodies face the wrath of the public for the actions of a constituent member, simply staying silent only serves to exacerbate the situation.
“The nun should have been counselled and protected and an investigation should have taken place by the Catholic church much sooner.
“Moreover, had their been the slightest inkling that a crime had been committed the police and other statutory authorities should have been called in to take over the proceedings with the full support of the church.
“Whoever is found to be telling the truth in this case the church has no right to shove the concern under the table to simply save face. The allegations are serious and the way this case has been dealt with has tarnished the Roman Catholic Church’s reputation again.
“Let us all pray and seek for justice to prevail in this traumatic event.
Mr Adhikiri’s group have organised a solidarity protest for the nun. He shared details with the BPCA: