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Vatican accepts resignation of rape-accused Indian bishop

Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar was cleared of charges of raping a nun by a district court in southern Kerala a year ago
Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar in his office in 2017

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

Published: June 01, 2023 12:47 PM GMT
Updated: June 02, 2023 06:56 AM GMT

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of India’s Jalandhar diocese more than a year after a lower court acquitted him of all charges of raping a nun.

“The letter of resignation I have written after prayerful reflection and consultation with my superiors was accepted by our dear Pope Francis today,” Mulakkal announced in a social media message on June 1.

The Vatican removed Mulakkal from the administrative responsibilities of the diocese based in northern Punjab state just before police arrested him in 2018 on charges of raping a nun.

The nun, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation,  under the patronage of the bishop, accused him of raping her more than 13 times between 2014 and 2016 inside her convent in Kerala’s Kottayam district.

A district court in southern Kerala state, where the complainant nun lived, acquitted Mulakkal. The court on Jan. 14, 2022, said the prosecution could not establish the police charges against Mulakkal. He was acquitted of all seven charges.

Even after his arrest, the Vatican allowed Mulakkal to retain his title as bishop of Jalandhar and appointed an apostolic administrator in the diocese.

Mulakkal in his message thanked all who supported him during the harassment he underwent and the “pain and tears” he suffered following the allegation.

“I sincerely thank everyone who prayed for me, who loved me and who shared my pain, and who stood with me,” he said in his native Malayalam language.

He said he submits “at the foot of the cross” the ordeals he suffered and the pain it gave him all these years.

The apostolic nunciature in a June 1 statement said the resignation was requested from Mulakkal but it was not a disciplinary action.

“Given the still divisive situation” about the case concerning Mulakkal “the resignation has been requested” from Mulakkal “not as a disciplinary measure imposed upon him, but as a pro bono Ecclesiae, especially for the good of the diocese, which needs a new bishop,” the nunciature said in the statement.

Mulakkal’s current status is Emeritus Bishop of Jalandhar and it “does not imply canonical restrictions on his ministry,” the statement added.

Bishop Angelo Gracias, the  apostolic administrator of Jalandhar in a message said with the resignation of Mulakkal, the diocese of Jalandhar "is now vacant."  

Gracias said he has been reappointed apostolic administrator of "the diocese, sede vacante" (a vacant see).

He also thanked Mulakkal for the decision to resign "for the good of the Church and of the Diocese, thereby paving the way for the appointment of a new bishop."  

However, John Dayal, a senior lay Catholic leader based in New Delhi said the resignation came after Pope Francis demanded it.

"The appeal against his acquittal in the rape case is admitted. He did not volunteer his resignation earlier or now,” Dayal told UCA News on June 1.

Besides he said Pope Francis has recently reappointed the administrator and has declared a vacancy in the Jalandhar diocese

“A new Bishop will be appointed sooner rather than later,” Dayal said.

Allowing Mulakkal “to use his title saves him from public disgrace,” he added.

The congregation of the complainant nun will “continue to be in the public gaze for a long time to come.  The administrator or the new bishop will have to take a call on the future of this diocesan order which also needs a bit of a shake-up,” he said.

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5 Comments on this Story
CHHOTEBHAI
For years we have been demanding strict action against him. Having read the lengthy judgement I was really surprised how he was acquitted. Now what about William of Mysore. Franco is an angel in comparison to him. There has to be zero tolerance of clerical sex abuse. chhotebhai CONVENOR INDIAN CATHOLIC FORUM
ANTO
It is right approach from Bishop Franco.
JOHN DAYAL
My tuppence 1. Appeal against his acquittal in the nun’s rape case is admitted. 2. He did not volunteer his resignation earlier or now. 3 the Pope (Holy See) asked for his resignation. 4. Catholic bishops have no option but to obey and resign. 5. Pope Francis has reappointed the administrator and has declared a vacancy in Jullundur diocese. A new Bishop will be appointed sooner rather than later. 6. Allowing him (Franci) to use his title saves him from public disgrace. Normally a retired bishop as Emeritus enjoys huge respect and a moral force buts without as sIngle executive power. In this case, it is moot if he has any moral credence or popularity in the punjabi speaking, largely Dalit , diocese. It remains to be seen as to where he will stay in Punjab, or if he will find a home in some parish or institution in Kerala. The Convent will continue to be in the public gaze for a long time to come. The administrator or the new bishop will have to take a call on the future of this diocesan order which also needs a bit if a shakeup. Alas, the Papal action will not help heal the wounds of the diocese. The future new bishop will have his task cut out for him. They damage to the church in india , and to the hierarchy, for not taking early action on complaints of gender violence has already been done. But the action in Jalandhar, and a few weeks earlier in the case of the Mysore Bishop who has been sent on leave, may indicate that the Holy See has woken up to critical issues in the indian church. It also burnishes the image of the Nunciature which had taken a beating. The new Nuncio has been active.
ML SATYAN
Franco, if he was sincere to his vocation, should have resigned long back. The Vatican also should have defrocked him. He was not in a mood to resign but has been compelled to resign to save his "Bishop Emiritus of Jalandhar" title. This is a clear evidence that he is under the "Vatican Patronage". How long will the Vatican and the Nuncio try to save criminals like Franco and William of Mysuru?
JOHN MASCARENHAS
it is a SHAME TO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND ITS GOOD PRIESTS AND NUNS THAT THE POPE AND HIS OTHER MATES TOOK SO LONG TO FORCE THE CRIMINAL TO QUIT. I DISPUTE THE TITLE OF THE CHURCH. IT SHOULD READ (UN)HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH.
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