Pope temporarily removes bishop accused of rape as police grill him again
Pope Francis has temporarily relieved Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal of his pastoral responsibilities, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) said on Thursday. The move came as the Kerala police questioned Mulakkal for the second day in Kochi over a 43-year-old nun’s rape charges against him.
A group of nuns, staging a sit-in against police inaction in the case, welcomed the pope’s decision as their “first victory” in the struggle against the bishop. The pope has named Bombay Archdiocese Bishop Emeritus Agnelo Rufino Gracias as Mulakkal’s replacement, a CBCI statement said.
Mulakkal had on September 16 written to the Pope offering to “step aside temporarily” as the bishop of the Jalandhar diocese, Kerala Catholic Bishops Council spokesman Fr Varghese Vallikkattu said.
“We are very happy… the Vatican has finally heard our prayers. It is the first victory in our struggle,” said a nun, who is among those nuns staging the sit-in seeking Mulakkal’s arrest. In Kochi, Mullakal was questioned for a second day on Thursday and asked to appear before the investigators again on Friday.
“We need more time to verify some of his statements. We will resume his questioning on Friday. We are yet to arrive at a conclusion,” said Kottayam police superintendent S Harishankar.
A member of the investigating team, who did not want to be identified, said there were many contradictions in the bishop’s statements. Some of the videos he produced were edited but he pleaded innocence, he added. “It seems he was tutored well,” he said.
The protesting nuns alleged the police were giving the bishop enough time to buy witnesses. “Some of the witnesses have already retracted. Our struggle will continue till we get justice and Franco is put behind bars,” said Sister Anupama, one of the nuns staging the sit-in.
The police have drawn flak for delaying the bishop’s arrest even though the nun, who has accused him of sexual abuse, has had her statement recorded before a magistrate. “...after the victim’s deposition before police or a magistrate, the arrest of the accused should not exceed more than two months. In the nun’s case, police have violated this for reasons best known to them,” said lawyer and activist VK Mini.