ucanews.com reporter, KochiUpdated: September 24, 2018 04:28 PM GMT
A nun speaks on Sept. 22, the last day of a protests by four nuns of Missionaries of Jesus who were calling for the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who is accused of rape. (Photo by Christopher Joseph/ucanews.com)
An Indian bishop has been arrested over the alleged rape of a Catholic nun and remains in custody in the southern state of Kerala.
The prelate was arrested on charges of rape, forced unnatural sex, criminal intimidation and illegal confinement. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life imprisonment.
In his bail application, Bishop Mulakkal denied the nun's allegations. "The allegations made by the nun are concocted and cooked up only to take vengeance against action taken by me," he said in the application.
The bishop faced the Magistrate Court in Palai town on Sept. 24 and was ordered by the judge to stay in police custody until Oct. 8. He will be held in Palai sub-jail.
Kerala police had summoned the 54-year-old prelate based in northern India's Jalandhar Diocese to appear before them on Sept. 19. After three days of interrogation, his arrest was recorded on Sept. 21.
Police said Bishop Mulakkal underwent a mandatory medical examination and a potency test. They have also collected blood samples, DNA and body fluids from him for further medical examination, officials told media.
The case has rocked the Indian Church for the past three months. It began after the nun, a former superior general of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation under the bishop's patronage, filed a police complaint on June 27. In the complaint the nun said that the bishop raped her when he visited her at a convent based in Kerala's Kottayam district from 2014 to 2016.
Kottayam police superintendent Hari Shankar — who was part of the interrogating team — told media that the investigation has "concluded with reasonable suspicion" that charges listed in the police complaint have a basis.
Church authorities were cautious in their response to the arrest and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India issued a two-sentence press release.
"It is sad moment for all of us. We pray for all involved: Bishop Franco, the nun concerned, the Diocese of Jalandhar and the congregation of Missionaries of Jesus," said the release singed by conference president Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai.
Following his arrest, the bishop appeared in plainclothes and police took him to the convent in Kottayam district and to the room where sex abuse allegedly took place in an effort to collect further evidence.
A day before the arrest, Indian Church officials announced a Vatican decision to remove Bishop Mulakkal from the administration of his diocese. In his place the Vatican appointed retired Auxiliary Bishop Angelo Rufino Gracias of Bombay as apostolic administrator "sede pleana et ad nutum Sanctae Sedia."
A church official said the Latin term means that Bishop Mulakkal continues to be the bishop of the diocese, although administrative capacities have been handed to another prelate and that situation continues "at the whim of the Holy See."
The police arrest and Vatican action have ended a public protest by four nuns from the Missionaries of Jesus which started on Sept. 8 in Kerala's Kochi city. The nuns were demanding justice for the nun allegedly sexually assaulted by the bishop.
"We are glad that the police have arrested the bishop … we hope the investigation will help us get us justice," said Sister Anupama, one of the nuns.
The nuns will resume their protest if they believe police are too lax in their handling of the case against the bishop.