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Kerala nun rape: unusual case that witnessed many twists and turns

Earlier many priests have faced sexual harassment and assault charges from believers, but this is the first time one from the ordained flock turned against the powerful diocese head attracting widespread attention.
The powerful church stood with Bishop Franco Mullakkal though many activists and a miniscule section of the clergy rallied behind the agitating nuns. (PTI Photo)
Published on Jan 14, 2022 06:55 PM IST

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Kerala nun rape case, in which a court in Kottayam on Friday acquitted bishop Franco Mullakal of all charges, was the first case in the country in which a bishop was the accused and the complainant was a nun who once worked under him. Earlier many priests have faced sexual harassment and assault charges from believers, but this is the first time one from the ordained flock turned against the powerful diocese head attracting widespread attention.

The unusual case witnessed many twists and turns in three years including some medical tests on the victim (there is a bar on reporting court proceedings) and some witnesses have turned hostile. Though many activists and a miniscule section of the clergy rallied behind agitating nuns the powerful church stood with the Bishop. And some churches in Kottayam held special prayers each time he appeared in the court. And once acquitted, Franco Mullakal did his routine, attending a holy mass in a church in Kallathipadi in Kottayam on Friday.

Interestingly, Mullakal was the first to approach the police. In a complaint to Kottayam SP S Harishankar in the first week of May 2018, he said a nun and her relatives were planning to hoist a sexual harassment case on him for removing her from the post of the Mother Superior. Later the police registered a case based on his complaint. At that time the nun was reportedly running around church heads with her alleged rape compliant including Cardinal Mar George Alancherry, the senior-most Catholic priest of the country. She also appealed to the Vatican envoy, her fellow nuns later said, adding she turned to police as a last resort.

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Almost a month later, she filed a complaint with Kuruvilanghad police station in June 2018 in which she said she was sexually assaulted by the bishop several times between 2014 and 2018. She said he also subjected her to unnatural sex and criminal intimidation and she was scared to open up. In the FIR she said the first assault took place on April 24, 2014 at room no. 20 of the church guest house at Kuruvilanghad, Kottayam.

The case attracted national attention after five fellow nuns, who came in support of the victim, started a sit-in protest on September 8 in Kochi seeking the arrest of Mullakal. Their protests continued till his arrest on September 21, 2018. Mullakkal spent 25 days in jail, and later he got the bail. The special investigation team filed the charge-sheet on April 9, 2010 and the trial began in September 2020. Some of the witnesses were high-profile ones. Besides Cardinal Allancherry and Bishops of Bhagalpur and Ujjain, 25 nuns and 11 priests were there among the 83 witnesses. Fourteen witnesses turned hostile.

There were many attempts to delay the trial and Mullakal’s discharge pleas were rejected by the Kerala high court and the Supreme Court.The trial was further delayed due to Covid-19 pandemic. During the trial in July 2020, Mullakkal reportedly abstained from hearing saying that his area was declared as a containment zone but later prosecution submitted a list of the containment zones in Jalandhar in which the Bishop’s house was not there. Later the court threatened to cancel his bail forcing him to appear before it during the trial.

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