Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar in his office in 2017. (Photo: Ritu Sharma/UCA News)
A court in Kerala has suspended the arrest warrant against rape-accused Indian Bishop Franco Mulakkal after he produced a Covid-19 positive medical report, but the court refused to accept an appeal seeking a review of the arrest warrant.
"It is true the court has kept its order for his arrest in abeyance until July 29," public prosecutor Jithesh J. Babu told UCA News on July 22.
The court in the southern state's Kottayam district kept in abeyance the arrest warrant until July 29, giving the bishop temporary relief from his immediate arrest.
The court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against Bishop Mulakkal on July 13 following his repeated failure to appear before it to start the trial in the rape case registered against him.
The case began in June 2018 after a former superior general of the Missionaries of Jesus, an indigenous diocesan congregation under the bishop's patronage, accused him of raping her 13 times from 2014-16.
The bishop's repeated inability to appear before the court also prompted the judge to initiate proceedings to confiscate the surety deposited by his guarantors and by the accused himself. The bishop missed court dates more than 12 times.
However, the bishop's counsel C.S. Ajay on July 17 approached the court, pleading for a review of its order and to cancel the arrest warrant and the proceedings against the guarantors.
He also produced a medical certificate showing that Bishop Mulakkal had tested positive for Covid-19 and should be exempted from personal appearance.
When the court heard the appeal on July 19, government lawyer Babu opposed the review application, saying the trial court has no power to review its own order. Only a High Court, the top court for each state, or India's Supreme Court are empowered to do that, he argued.
Babu also doubted the genuineness of the Covid-19 positive medical report. He said the bishop had earlier lied on record that his residence was in a Covid-19 containment zone and got an adjournment in the case.
The court agreed with the public prosecutor and directed the police to investigate and file a report on the genuineness of the medical report.
"If he is infected with Covid-19, surely he cannot be produced before the court," public prosecutor Babu told UCA News.
However, lawyers following the case say that suspension of the arrest warrant will have no bearing on the regular hearing of the court.
The next hearing of the case is scheduled for Aug. 13. Records show that Bishop Mulakkal was tested positive for Covid-19 on July 13, the day the court issued his arrest warrant.
"If so, before July 30, he will complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine unless he develops other medical complications," said a senior court official who did not want to be named."From July end, almost a fortnight is left before the next hearing. The suspension of the warrant ends on July 29. Police can arrest and produce him before the court for the next hearing on Aug. 13," the official noted.
The bishop was arrested on Sept. 21, 2018, and was in jail for three weeks until his release on bail on Oct 15. His arrest followed a public demonstration by five nuns of the alleged victim's congregation in Kochi seeking his arrest.
The bishop and the congregation are based in Jalandhar, a diocese in Punjab state in India's northwest. The nun registered the case in Kerala, saying she was attacked when the bishop visited the congregation's convent in the southern state.
The Vatican removed the bishop from duties and appointed an administrator for the diocese, but he was not suspended. He continues to live in the Jalandhar bishop's house and maintains the bishop's title.