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Indian bishop appeals to Supreme Court against rape charge

The top court's ruling will decide whether Bishop Mulakkal should face trial

UCA News reporter, New Delhi

UCA News reporter, New Delhi

Updated: July 27, 2020 07:38 AM GMT
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Indian bishop appeals to Supreme Court against rape charge

Five nuns of Missionaries of Jesus hold a public demonstration in Kochi on Sept. 22, 2018, seeking the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal for the alleged rape of their superior general. (Photo: UCA News) 

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Bishop Franco Mulakkal of India’s Jalandhar Diocese, who is facing trial on charges of raping a Catholic nun, has appealed to the country’s top court to clear him, pleading innocence after two lower courts rejected a similar petition.

The Supreme Court of India registered Bishop Mulakkal’s discharge plea on July 24 and agreed to hear him, according to court records published on its website. However, the court has not given a date to hear the case.

Lawyers connected with the case told UCA News that the 56-year-old bishop moved the top court after the High Court in Kerala state dismissed his discharge plea on July 7.

His appeal in the High Court came after a district court in Kottayam in Kerala dismissed a similar plea on March 16.

Bishop Mulakkal’s application pleaded innocence. It said a 43-year-old nun, former superior general of the Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under his patronage, complained against him with malafide intention following his differences with her.

The nun, based in Kerala, filed a police complaint in June 2018 accusing the bishop of raping her 13 times from 2014-16. The crimes happened when the bishop, based in northern India, visited her convent in the southern state.

The Supreme Court did not give the bishop any immediate relief as both the prosecution and the petitioner nun had moved separate caveats before the Supreme Court pleaded not to decide on the case without hearing them.

“Since caveats are filed, the top court will issue notices to both parties before hearing the bishop and deciding the merit of the application,” said advocate Brijmoham Mahajan, a High Court lawyer in Madhya Pradesh state.

In cases of this nature and gravity, the Supreme Court “rarely alters orders of the trial court and the High Court. It could mean exonerating a rape accused without proper trial,” he told UCA News on July 26.

Kerala High Court “has already upheld the trial proceedings. It is evident that the accused is trying to delay the trial process by moving the top court with this appeal,” the lawyer said.

Bishop Mulakkal’s move came after the trial court on July 13 canceled his bail and issued an arrest warrant after he had failed to appear before the court more than 12 times, delaying the start of the trial.

A Supreme Court lawyer and a Catholic, who requested anonymity, said: “In the normal procedure, the Supreme Court will ask the bishop to face the trial and prove his innocence.”

The crux of the discharge application principle is that the charges are made with malicious intent and the evidence submitted in the court is insufficient to prove the crime, the lawyer said.

“Naturally, the court will say 'if you are so confident, please go and face the trial,'” he said. “But miracles can happen.”

The trial court has scheduled its next hearing for Aug. 13 and asked Bishop Mulakkal to appear before it.

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