Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar in his office in 2017. (Photo: Ritu Sharma/UCA News)
An Indian bishop facing trial on charges of raping a Catholic nun has sought the Supreme Court's intervention for a second time, pleading innocence and seeking to be cleared from the case.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar filed a petition in the Supreme Court on Oct. 1 seeking a review of the court's earlier order that dismissed his plea to be discharged.
The bishop's review application, filed through his counsel Sweta Garg, pleaded "quashing of criminal proceedings" against him, according to information available on the official website of the top court.
The Supreme Court on Aug. 5 had dismissed a similar appeal from Bishop Mulakkal that he should be discharged because he is innocent and the body of evidence collected against him does not prove he committed the crime.
His lawyers also told courts that the case stems from the nun's personal vendetta against him for initiating disciplinary action against her violations of norms and financial misappropriation.
Bishop Mulakkal's latest move came on the same day as Kerala High Court, the top court in the southern state, dismissed his petition seeking to defer the ongoing trial for at least two months or until the Covid-19 pandemic subsides in the state.
Karala has been witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, with some 10,000 people already infected. The steady rise in cases forced the state government to impose prohibitory orders for a month from Oct. 3 banning gatherings of more than five people.
Bishop Mulakkal filed the fresh case in the High Court after the trial court in Kottayam district set Oct. 5 for the alleged victim's cross-examination.
The court scheduled the cross-examination despite the bishop's counsel insisting on deferring it for at least two months or until Covid-19 is controlled.
The trial began in Kottayam district court on Sept. 16 for alleged rapes committed in Kerala from 2014-16 while the bishop visited the nun's convent.
The alleged victim also appeared and gave testimony to the court during the Sept. 16 in-camera session.
Bishop Mulakkal's latest moves "are an attempt to delay the case," said Riju Kanjookaran, the convener of Save Our Sisters (SOS), a laity movement formed to support the survivor.
"One thing is certain — after the testimony of the survivor, the bishop seems to be convinced that he will be convicted. He is now running from one court to another blocking the trial," he told UCA News on Oct. 3.
"Running away from the trial is not a solution. He should prove his innocence in the court of law and walk away with his head high."
The alleged victim is a former superior general of the Missionaries of Jesus, an indigenous diocesan congregation that functions under Janadhar Diocese in Punjab state in northern India.
The Vatican removed Bishop Mulakkal and appointed an apostolic administrator to run the diocese days before police arrested him on Sept. 21, 2018. However, he continues to hold the title of bishop.
In her complaint to police in June 2018, the nun said the bishop raped her 13 times after summoning her to his room, asserting his authority as patron of the congregation.
"The truth will liberate us all," Kanjookaran said.
Lawyers of both parties refused to comment, saying the case is sub judice (under judicial consideration).