ucanews.com reporters, KeralaUpdated: November 16, 2018 06:00 AM GMT
Protesters demand the cancellation of bail for Bishop Franco Mulakkal in Thiruvananthapuram on Nov. 14. The bishop was arrested on charges of rape last month. Communist leader V.S. Achuthanandan (seated left) attended the protest. (Photo supplied)
About 600 people demonstrated near the legislative house of India's Kerala state demanding bail be revoked for a Catholic bishop accused of raping a nun.
Protesters say the free movement of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar, a native of Kerala, has become a threat to witnesses in the case and is working against the legal process.
"As long as Franco is out on bail, he can use his power to destroy evidence and influence witnesses. The lives of witnesses and sisters who publicly spoke against him are also at a risk," said former Kerala chief minister and communist leader V.S. Achuthanandan, who launched the protest on Nov. 14.
Kerala's High Court bailed Bishop Mulakkal on Oct. 15. He was arrested on Sept. 21 based on the July complaint of a 48-year-old nun of the Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under the prelate, that he raped her multiple times between 2014 and 2016 while he was visiting her convent in Kerala.
The bishop was removed from administrative responsibilities and was arrested only after a group of nuns from the alleged victim's convent began a public protest seeking justice.
The latest demonstration sought protection for the alleged rape victim and the nuns who sought the arrest of the bishop.
Protesters also demanded an independent probe into the "mysterious death" of a senior Jalandhar priest, Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, who had publicly supported the nuns and sought an investigation of the bishop.
The 67-year-old priest, who suffered from high blood pressure and diabetes, was found dead in his parish room on Oct. 22, a week after Bishop Mulakkal was released on bail.
"It was Franco who demoted a senior priest [Kattuthara] to an insignificant post. He [Kattuthara] also received several threats for publicly speaking against Bishop Franco," Achuthanandan said.
Achuthanandan was an invited guest at the protest organized by Save Our Sisters (SOS), a forum of rights groups supporting the nuns that includes Catholic groups, priests and nuns.
Bishop Mulakkal's bail should the revoked to ensure the safety of the rape complainant, the five nuns supporting her and other witnesses in the case, said Father Augustine Vattoli of Ernakulam Archdiocese, who coordinates SOS activities.
He said the accused bishop "is highly connected with the powerful and rich. His continuing outside jail is tantamount to weakening the case."
Father Vattoli said the diocese has posted four nuns supporting Bishop Mulakkal in the Kerala convent to live with the alleged victim and the five nuns who held the protest against the bishop.
"The lives of those challenging the bishop are in danger as his supporters can do anything. We need to protect them before any harm is done," Father Vattoli told ucanews.com.
Two police officers have been posted outside the convent to protect the nuns.
Some 100 members of Father Kattuthara's family joined the protest to demand a free and fair probe into his death.
"Our family member died in mysterious circumstances and we want to know the truth of it," said Sebastian Anthony.
Even if the priest was not killed, he died "surely because of the pressure from Mulakkal. Father Kattuthara had several times told us that if the bishop got bail, he would be killed," Anthony said.