Ex-bishop accused of Kerala nun rape arrives in court with priests
A day after Pope Francis issued an edict to check sexual abuses involving the clergy, former bishop of Jalandhar Franco Mullakkal appeared before a court in Kottayam on Friday to hear charges against him in a sexual assault case.
The case against Mullakkal surfaced in last June when a 43-year-old nun had complained to the police that he had raped her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. When the police failed to arrest him, five fellow nuns had staged a sit-in protest in Kochi. Later, a special investigation team was formed and it arrested him in September after several rounds of questioning. He was later removed from the post of bishop. After spending three weeks in judicial custody Mullakkal later secured bail from the Kerala High Court.
The court has summoned him after accepting the chargesheet filed by the special investigation team led by Dy SP K Subhash. A copy of the chargesheet was handed over to the accused and the Pala first class judicial magistrate court posted the case for further hearing to June 7.
Mullakal arrived in the court in the company of many priests and other supporters. Before coming to the court he offered prayers at the church of Saint Alphonsa, the first woman of Indian origin to be canonised as a saint by the Catholic church.
The chargesheet submitted by the SIT runs over 2000 pages and he was arraigned as an accused under several sections of the IPC, including 342 (wrongful confinement), 376 (rape of a woman incapable of giving consent) and 377 (unnatural offence). If proved guilty, he may get a punishment of life imprisonment. The SIT has also listed 83 witnesses in the case including Major Arch Bishop Cardinal George Alancherry and several magistrates who recorded statements of the victim and witnesses.
There were many attempts to sabotage the case and nuns, who stood with the victim, were allegedly vicitmised for turning against the powerful bishop. Five nuns, who stood with the victim, were later transferred and but the directive had to be cancelled following intervention of courts and activists.
Jalandhar Arch Diocese runs many educational institutions and convents in north India. Despite serious charges levelled against the former bishop the church is yet to disown him, said nuns who struggled to bring up the case.
Meanwhile, Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) has welcomed the Pope’s decision to make it mandatory for the clergy to report sexual abuse cases.
In an Apostolic letter the Pope has made it clear that any sexual advances involving the use of power will be considered abusive. He has also exhorted believers to report cover-ups by superiors. The new directive gives enough protection to whistle-blowers.
“The Pope’s order will be implemented in toto. We have taken action against the guilty,” said KCBC spokesman Father Verghese Vallikkatt.
Interestingly, the Pope’s directive has come at a time when the church is accused of targeting the nuns who protested against the rape accused bishop. This is the first time in the country a senior functionary of the church is facing such charges.