A nun talks with a media person in September 2018 during a protest by four nuns of Missionaries of Jesus who were calling for the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal. (Photo: Christopher Joseph/UCA News)
In the first such case in India's legal history, a court in southern India began the prosecution of a Catholic bishop on Aug. 13 on charges of raping a nun.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar appeared in the trial court of Kottayam district in Kerala, more than a year after police filed rape charges against him.
Judge G. Gopakumar read out a three-minute-long prepared text of charges against Bishop Mulakkal, who was standing in the witness box.The charges included raping the nun multiple times from 2014-16 and intimidating her against reporting the crime.
The judge asked the bishop if he agreed with the charges. The bishop replied in the negative, leading the court to proceed with the trial. The court issued a summons to the petitioner also to be present for the next hearing on Sept. 16.
"In the next hearing, the court will examine the petitioner. Subsequently, other witnesses in the case will also be summoned one after another before completing the trial," public prosecutor Jethesh J. Babu told UCA News.
The petitioner is a 43-year-old former superior general of Missionaries of Jesus, a Jalandhar Diocese congregation under the patronage of Bishop Mulakkal.
She complained to police in June 2018 that the bishop raped her 13 times from 2014-16. The crimes happened when the bishop visited her convent in the southern state, the petition said.
Bishop Mulakkal claims the nun complained against him with malafide intentions following his differences with her, especially for initiating a probe into her alleged financial irregularities.
Pleading innocence and citing the nun's malafide intentions, Bishop Mulakkal approached Kerala's High Court and India's Supreme Court to clear him from the case. But the higher courts asked him to face trial.
"The trial will bring out the truth," Bishop Mulakkal said, reacting to media questions on Aug. 13.
Bishop Mulakkal is believed to be the first Catholic bishop to face a court trial for raping a nun.
Police arrested him 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 was jailed but released on bail on Oct. 15, 2018.
Ahead of his arrest, the Vatican removed him from the diocese's administrative roles by appointing an apostolic administrator. However, he continues to live in the Jalandhar bishop's house and retains his title as bishop.
The bishop missed court dates more than 10 times, forcing the court to cancel his bail and issue an arrest warrant for him on July 13.
However, the bishop surrendered before the court on Aug. 7 and secured bail to avoid possible arrest. He also agreed to be present for the Aug. 13 hearing and all other dates of the case.
A special investigation team of Kerala police probed the allegations and filed a 2,000-page charge sheet against Bishop Mulakkal in April 2019.
The case has listed 83 witnesses including Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church based in Kerala.