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India

Rape-accused Indian bishop set to move Supreme Court

Bishop Mulakkal maintains the charges are fabricated and based only on verbal allegations

UCA News reporter, Kochi

UCA News reporter, Kochi

Updated: July 09, 2020 04:51 AM GMT
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Rape-accused Indian bishop set to move Supreme Court

A UCA News file photo of five nuns leading a public demonstration in September 2018 seeking the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar, who was accused of raping a nun.  

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A Catholic bishop accused of raping a nun plans to appeal to India's highest court to set himself free from the case, maintaining that it was fabricated because of a personal vendetta, his lawyer said.

"It is a fit case for appeal," said advocate C.S. Ajay, a counsel of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar in Punjab state.

The bishop is facing trial on rape charges after a Catholic nun, former superior of a diocesan congregation under the bishop, accused him in June 2018 of raping her four years ago.

The nun alleged the bishop sexually abused her more than 13 times over two years during his visits to Kerala, where the congregation has a convent.

The 56-year-old bishop's plan to appeal to the Supreme Court comes after the state High Court in Kerala on July 7 dismissed his petition to "discharge" from the case.

Last March, even before the trial began, the bishop appealed to the state court to set him free from the case. The appeal maintained the case was fabricated and based only on verbal allegations and not on facts or evidence.

However, the court agreed with the prosecution that there is enough evidence to proceed against the bishop. It asked the bishop to face trial.

"We are considering appealing to the Supreme Court. We will take a final call after reading the entire order," Ajay told UCA News on July 8.

The bishop's counsel told the court the case was fabricated because of personal grudges and differences of opinion the bishop had with the alleged victim. The bishop was implicated after he questioned some misappropriation of funds, the lawyer said.

However, the court said the prosecution has "sufficient materials … on record to proceed with the case. In fact, the records disclose the existence of all the ingredients to constitute the alleged offenses."

The delay in filing the complaint does not make it invalid. "The precarious situation" of the nun has to be "taken into account prima facie" to understand the delay in complaining "against her superior officer," the court said.

The court also said minor contradictions in the statement of the witness or mere suspicion of the case "are not at all genuine grounds to conclude that there are not sufficient grounds to proceed against the accused."

The court dismissed the petition saying that "it is well settled that guilt or innocence of an accused is not determined at the time of framing of charge." Only the existence of a prima facie case is enough to proceed to trial, it said.

Bishop Mulakkal moved the High Court on March 16 after a lower court dismissed a similar petition. It asked him to appear for trial but the prelate continued to abstain from proceedings and filed the discharge application.

The trial court has now fixed July 13 for the prelate to be present in court after he missed 13 such dates.

Sister Anupama Kelamangalathuveli, the spokesperson for the alleged rape victim, told UCA News on July 7 that they are "happy about the High
court order" asking the bishop to face trial.

Kerala police filed a 2,000-page charge sheet against Bishop Mulakkal in April 2019.

Police arrested the bishop on Sept. 21, 2018, a fortnight after five nuns of the same congregation as the complainant staged a sit-in in Kochi. He was released on bail three weeks later on Oct. 15.

He continues to live in Jalandhar Diocese, maintaining the title of bishop. The Vatican has removed him from office and appointed an apostolic administrator to run the diocese but did not suspend Bishop Mulakkal.

Corsica mobilizes against sexual violence

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