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India's Supreme Court rejects rape-accused bishop's petition

Police can arrest Bishop Mulakkal if he fails to appear before the trial court for its next hearing on Aug. 13
India's Supreme Court rejects rape-accused bishop's petition

Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar in his office in 2017. (Photo: Ritu Sharma/UCA News)

Published: August 05, 2020 10:50 AM GMT
Updated: August 05, 2020 11:05 AM GMT

India's top court has dismissed a petition from Bishop Franco Mulakkal that sought to clear him of charges of raping a Catholic nun.

"There is no merit" in the case, said Chief Justice Sharad Aravind Bobde on Aug. 5 while dismissing the discharge plea of Bishop Mulakkal of Jalandhar Diocese.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer and former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi appeared for the bishop, but the chief justice dismissed the case without waiting for any detailed hearing, lawyers who witnessed the online proceedings said.

The proceedings in the Supreme Court were moved online after the Covid-19 pandemic began to spread in national capital New Delhi in March.

Bishop Mulakkal has no option but to surrender to the trial court and submit himself for trial, said a Catholic Supreme Court lawyer who is closely following the case.

The lawyer, who requested anonymity, said the petition's dismissal was "expected because in the natural process innocence should be proved through trial."

The trial court in Kerala state's Kottayam district has scheduled its next hearing for Aug. 13.

During a July 13 hearing, the court canceled the bishop's bail and issued an arrest warrant to produce him in the court after the bishop failed to appear in the court more than 12 consecutive times.

The bishop will be inviting trouble for himself if he fails to appear again at court and help start the trial, the lawyer said. Police could arrest him and present him before the court and jail him, he added.

The 56-year-old bishop moved Supreme Court after the High Court in Kerala and a district court dismissed similar discharge applications that pleaded innocence.

The application claims a 43-year-old nun complained against him with malafide intention following his differences with her. The nun is a former superior general of the Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under his patronage in Jalandhar Diocese in northern India.

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

"Now that India's top court has dismissed his petition to discharge him from the rape case, the Vatican should do justice and suspend Mulakkal pending his trail," said Riju Kanjookaran, a lay leader in Kerala.

He said that following Bishop Mulakkal's arrest last September, the Vatican removed him from the office of the bishop and appointed an administrator for Jalandhar Diocese, but he continues to have the title of bishop of Jalandhar.

"He should not be allowed to stay in the bishop's house in Jalandhar and backseat drive the affairs of the diocese and the Missionaries of Jesus congregation," Kanjookaran told UCA News on Aug.5.

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