Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar, accused of raping a nun, arrives for an in-camera cross-examination at Kottayam district court in southern India's Kerala state on Sept. 16. (Photo: UCA News)
A Catholic nun and a bishop she accused of raping her have both appeared for an in-camera cross-examination in a court in southern India's Kerala state.
Police escorted the nun's car to the court complex through a gate used by judges to avoid some 60 media persons waiting at the main gate on Sept. 16.
However, the accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar used the main gate but did not respond to questions from reporters.
Police warned against photographing the nun or reporting court proceedings, citing a court order.
The court had banned media coverage of the proceedings following a plea from Bishop Mulakkal. The court agreed with his lawyers, who argued that "a media trial will be a threat to a fair trial."
Soon after the complainant and the accused entered the courtroom, police closed its doors and windows, blocking the public and media.
"The trial is likely to continue tomorrow as well," Bishop Mulakkal's counsel C.S Ajay told UCA News after the session was over.
Judge G. Gopakumar on Aug. 13 framed the charges of rape against the bishop and read them out in open court. He also summoned the complainant to appear for cross-examination.
The petitioner is a 43-year-old former superior general of Missionaries of Jesus, a congregation functioning under Jalandhar Diocese in Punjab state. Bishop Mulakkal is the patron of the congregation.
The nun, now based in Kottayam district, 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 Kottayam, her complaint said.
Bishop Mulakkal claims the nun cooked up the story against him with malafide intentions following his disciplinary action against her, including initiating a probe into her alleged financial irregularities.
Pleading innocence, 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 nun companions of the complainant staged a sit-in in Kochi, Kerala's commercial capital.
The bishop 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.
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.