Five nuns of Missionaries of Jesus at a public demonstration in southern India's Kochi city on Sept. 22, 2018, demanding the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was accused of raping their former superior. (Photo: Christopher Joseph/UCA News)
India's Supreme Court has rejected a Catholic bishop's second appeal to clear him of charges of raping a nun, leaving him with the only option of facing trial in a district court.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad Aravind Bobde on Nov. 5 dismissed the review petition filed by Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar.
The petition sought to review the judgment of the same court, which had earlier dismissed the bishop's discharge plea to release him from the case.
"We have perused the review petition and its connected papers. We do not find any error in the order impugned, much less an apparent error on the face of the record, so as to call for its review. The review petition is accordingly dismissed," the court's latest order said.
The discharge plea seeks to clear the bishop from the rape charges, contending that even if the body of evidence collected against him is proved right, it does not prove he committed the crime.
The same bench of the Supreme Court dismissed his previous discharge plea on Aug. 5 and asked the bishop to face trial.
On Oct. 1, the bishop sought a review of that order, resulting in the latest order.
The prelate moved the Supreme Court after Kerala High Court in southern India turned down his discharge plea.
Call to remove bishop
The case came up in the Supreme Court after a court in Kottayam district of Kerala started the bishop's trial in August, more than a year after police filed rape charges against him.
The case is based on a police complaint a nun filed in June 2018. The nun, a former superior general of Missionaries of Jesus, an indigenous congregation under Bishop Mulakkal, complained that the bishop raped her 13 times when he visited her Kerala convent from 2014 to 2016.
Bishop Mulakkal, however, maintains the nun cooked up the stories after he initiated disciplinary action against her for her violation of religious vows and financial misdeeds.
The nun has already recorded her testimony. According to court records, the court also started in-camera cross-examination of both parties, and it will continue on Nov. 12-13.
Lawyers familiar with the case said witness examination would start after the court completes cross-examination.
In September 2018, days before police arrested Bishop Mulakkal, the Vatican removed him from the diocese's administrative responsibilities by appointing an apostolic administrator in Jalandhar. Bishop Mulakkal, however, continues to hold the title of bishop of Jalandhar and resides in the bishop's house.
"Now Mulakkal has exhausted all his legal remedies to escape from the trial," said Riju Kanjookaran, convener of Save Our Sisters (SOS), a laity forum that supports the alleged rape victim.
Kanjookaran also appealed to the Church's leadership in India to suspend the bishop and move him out of the bishop's house in Jalandhar, given the top court's dismissal of his review petition.
"It is an opportunity for the Church's leadership to rise to the occasion and prove its neutrality by removing him from the bishop's house and suspending his title as bishop until he comes out clean from the case," the Catholic layman told UCA News on Nov. 6.
The same demands were raised by many other forums such as Sisters in Solidarity, which supports the alleged rape victim and her supporters after they failed to get the support of Catholic leaders.