Thiruvananthapuram: Bishop Franco Mulakkal, accused of raping a nun several times between 2014 and 2016, has been acquitted by a court in Kerala on Friday. Kottayam Additional District Court judge G Gopakumar announced the verdict.Franco Mulakkal, 57, was the first Catholic bishop in India to be arrested for assaulting a nun.
Although the nun had submitted a complaint to the Church in June 2017 about the rape, no action followed. A year later, in June 2018, the nun approached the police and filed a formal complaint. Even though the police registered a case, the bishop was not arrested. It was following days of protests by the survivor’s fellow nuns and other prominent figures that Franco was arrested. Later, after seven months of delay, the police registered the first information report (FIR).
Despite the threats and slander levelled against her and her supporter group ever since she took Franco to the court, the nun stood by her charges.
On June 29, 2018, Kuravilangad police registered a case based on the complaint filed by the survivor. The complaint said that she was raped 14 times by Bishop Franco Mulakkal of the Jalandhar diocese, from May 2014. In July, Pala Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt gave statement to investigation officer K Subhash, Deputy SP, Vaikom, that the survivor nun had complained about Franco earlier, but since the complaint was not filed in writing, he did not take any action.
In September 2018, the survivor wrote a letter to Giambattista Diquattro, Vatican’s Apostolic Nuncio (a diplomatic mission) alleging the bishop had been using the wealth of the diocese and his power to divert police investigation against him. She also alleged that the bishop had arranged people to attack her and her companions who supported her.
What are the charges against Mulakkal?
Mulakkal faced a slew of charges including illegal confinement, sexual harassment through abuse of power, unnatural sex, rape and outraging the modesty of a woman. Vaikkom DySP K Subhash was the investigating officer.
The verdict came at the end of the 105-day-long trial in closed court. There were 83 witnesses on the list out of which 39 are said to have given testimonies in favour of the prosecution. The defence paraded nine witnesses. The witnesses include 4 bishops including Major Archbishop George Alencherry of the Syro-Malabar Church, 11 priests, 25 nuns, seven magistrates who gave secret testimonies and the doctor who conducted the medical test.
Why is this case significant?
This is the first time a Catholic Bishop was arrested and booked on charges of rape and sexual harassment in India. Mulakkal was relieved from official duties at the Jalandhar diocese after he was charged by the police in the rape case. The case also shone a bright spotlight on the horrors that nuns face within the Church with hardly any mechanisms in place for grievance redressal. Oftentimes, complaints of harassment against senior clergy go unnoticed and deliberately buried by those in the higher management. The verdict in the case will spur more discussions on the lopsided power structure within the Church and hopefully compel amends.