UCA News

India

Indian court rejects rape-accused bishop's plea

Lawyers say the decision helps Bishop Franco Mulakkal to delay his trial as his plea can move to a higher court

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Updated: March 16, 2020 09:52 AM GMT
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Indian court rejects rape-accused bishop's plea

Five nuns of the Missionaries of Jesus attend a protest on Sept. 22, 2018, seeking the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal. The bishop accused of raping a nun is now facing court proceedings. (Photo: Christopher Joseph/UCA News)

Share this article :
A district court in southern India has dismissed a Catholic bishop’s application pleading innocence in a case that accuses him of raping a nun multiple times from 2014-16.

Kottayam district court in Kerala state on March 16 asked Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar to face trial in the case and dismissed his discharge petition.

“Our discharge application is dismissed,” lawyer C.S. Ajay, Bishop Mulakkal’s counsel, told UCA News on March 16. He refused to comment on the future course of action.

However, lawyers following the case, the first such in Indian legal history, say this will help delay the trial of the bishop.

“Strategically, it is a victory for the bishop. This effectively delays his trial as lawyers can now move higher courts,” said lawyer Anurag Singh of Madhya Pradesh High Court.

Bishop Mulakkal, based in the northern Indian state of Punjab, is accused of raping the former superior general of Missionaries of Jesus, an indigenous diocesan congregation under his patronage.

The petition sought a court direction to discharge the bishop from the case on grounds that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove the charges against him.

The charges against him were based on statements of individuals and not based on any material evidence, his lawyers reportedly argued.

The bishop had told UCA News that the allegations were part of a vendetta against him for initiating disciplinary action against the complainant nun.

Singh said the bishop’s lawyers can now move the state's High Court with the same discharge petition. If the High Court’s decision also goes against him, the lawyers can move the Supreme Court.

“Legally, the bishop now needs to face trial only after the discharge petition is decided. Considering the slow pace of progress in Indian courts, that is sure to take years,” Singh said.

However, Singh said that if the High Court does not stay the trial process, the lower court can continue with it while the High Court hears the discharge petition.

The alleged offenses took place in the congregation’s convent in Kuravilangad, a town in Kottayam district in the southern state of Kerala, a Christian stronghold.

A special investigation team of Kerala police that probed the allegations filed a 2,000-page charge sheet against Bishop Mulakkal in April 2019.

Police arrested the bishop on Sept. 21, 2018, a fortnight after five nuns of the same congregation as the complainant staged a sit-in in Kochi, attracting public support from across Kerala.

The prelate, however, was released on bail on Oct. 15, 2018, by Kerala High Court and continues to live in Jalandhar Diocese.

The case has listed 83 witnesses including Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church based in Kerala.

The nuns who have campaigned for the arrest of the bishop said they are disappointed by the slow pace of the case and the bishop avoiding trial and justice.

“We want a speedy trial in the case so that we can walk free,” Sister Anupama Kelamangalathuveli, one of the five nuns who continue to support the complainant, told UCA News.

Besides the discharge petition, the bishop’s lawyers also filed another case asking the court to restrain the media from covering the case on grounds that media coverage could defame the accused.

The court has now posted the cases for March 24.

“These applications are meant to prolong the trial,” said Shaiju Antony, joint convener of the Save Our Sisters movement that spearheaded the public protest against Bishop Mulakkal.

“However, we have faith in the judiciary, and the truth will come out even if it is a bit late,” Antony said.

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
YOUR DAILY
NEWSLETTER
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
 
Support UCA News

William J. Grimm, MM

Publisher

Union of Catholic Asian News

"As Pope Francis has said, we live not so much in an era of change as in a change of era. That is especially true in Asia and for the churches of Asia. UCA News is the dedicated, Asia-wide news and information service for the Church in Asia and we need your help to maintain the service."