Over 70 Days After Kerala Nun Files Rape Case, Bishop Decides To Temporarily Step Down
Bishop Franco Mulakkal, the head of the Diocese of Jalandhar, who is facing probe after a Kerala nun accused him of rape, has reportedly written to Pope Francis, seeking permission to step down temporarily from his post. In a letter, dated September 16 (Sunday), the rape-accused Bishop stated that he needed more time to travel to Kerala in order to fight the case. The letter has been confirmed by Father Peter Kavumpuram, the Public Relations Officer of Diocese of Jalandhar.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal has written to the Pope on 16 Sep expressing his desire to step down temporarily from the responsibilities of the diocese and has sought permission for the same: Diocese of Jalandhar on #KeralaNun rape case
— ANI (@ANI) September 17, 2018
The Indian Express has reported that the Bishop’s decision came after his meeting with legal advisors who advised him to step down before the Vatican asks him to do the same. Last week, a day after the Kerala Police summoned the Bishop for questioning on September 19, he handed over the administrative responsibilities of the Jalandhar Diocese to another senior priest. The decision to arrest the Bishop will be taken post-interrogation, reported the daily.
“In my absence, Mathew Kokkandam will administer the diocese as in the normal practice when I am away,” bishop Mulakkal said in a September 13 circular, reported NDTV. Meanwhile, the survivor nun has also written to the Vatican and sought for intervention in the ongoing case and has also demanded the bishop’s removal.
What had happened?
Reportedly, a nun from Missionaries of Jesus in Kottayam filed a complaint against the Bishop, accusing him of raping her repeatedly 13 times since the year 2014. When the church failed to take action on this matter, the nun approached the Kerala police. Following her complaint, the bishop was booked under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code. Police have questioned him on August 13 but failed to arrest him and to carry any further probe in the matter. The bishop has swiftly denied all the charges which were filed against him and reportedly said that it was a “conspiracy.”
Church body gives a clean chit to the accused
Protests in the form of demonstrations and indefinite fasts, demanding arrest of the accused cardinal, have been gaining momentum in different parts of Kerala. However, Missionaries of Jesus, the congregation to which the nuns belong to has reportedly conducted an internal probe into the matter and found out that the survivor nun has allegedly conspired against the bishop.
According to India Today, the statement said, “The nun who has complained against the bishop has conspired in connivance with nine others, including five nuns, against the bishop.” The statement said that the nuns have been influenced by some people to take such a step.
The findings of the internal probe also sparked another controversy as the congregation ousted the survivor nun’s image, which evidently violates Indian laws. The Kerala Police registered a case against Missionaries of Jesus after the nun’s brother filed a complaint.
Protests intensified in Kerala
In a first, five nuns took part in a protest near Kerala High Court on September 8 to get justice for their colleague, a fellow nun, who was allegedly raped by bishop Father Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar. They also demanded the immediate arrest of the accused bishop. Reportedly, Catholic reformation organizations also joined the protest which had been called by the Joint Christian Council. The protests gained momentum after members of the civil society, actors and social activists joined the protests.
Hindustan Times reported the protesting nuns as saying that if the arrest isn’t made immediately, their agitation is going to intensify even further. Reportedly, the victim’s sister is also going to join a hunger strike along with others on September 17 while other activists will stage protests in other district headquarters. The victim nun had also reportedly said that the Bishop had been using his political and economic clout to brush off the case which has been lodged against him.
Kerala Nuns in conflict with the church
The five nuns of Missionaries of Jesus are determined to get justice. The nuns and their families are facing mental trauma and continuous pressure from the church, but they are keen to fight for their fellow sister. One of the nuns, while slamming the police’s inaction in nabbing the accused said, “The police have repeatedly taken the statement of the victim nun, but they have taken Franco Mulakkal’s statement only once. It’s been 74 days since she gave a complaint, but other than the police questioning the victim, we don’t see any other progress.”
Reportedly, this is the first time in the Catholic church’s history in Kerala that nuns have come out in protest against the church authorities and the police, who have been allegedly trying to delay the process of investigation and the resultant arrest. However, their move did attract some strong criticism as The Missionaries of Jesus congregation, on September 10 condemned the protest by the five nuns. In a statement, the congregation said, “We strongly condemn the protest in Kochi. We cannot crucify an innocent soul based on such allegations,” reported News18. The statement has also said that the allegations against the bishop are completely baseless.
We condemn 5 nuns protesting with some orgs working against church. Our conscious doesn't allow us to crucify an innocent soul (Jalandhar Bishop) based on sexual abuse allegations by a nun. We suspect nuns have been forced into protest by external influence: Missionaries of Jesus
— ANI (@ANI) September 10, 2018
What does the police have to say?
While the cleric has been served a notice to appear before a probe team for interrogation on September 19, the investigation has already been stretched to over 70 days. After the protests were first launched, the Kerala High Court on September asked the police to submit a report on the action that has been taken since the complaint was lodged.
According to The Indian Express, SP Hari Sankar has said that there is a lack of scientific evidence which could substantiate the rape charges and the delay in informing the police is an impediment. However, the police reportedly submitted an affidavit which states that investigations so far reveal that the bishop had abused his position of power and raped the nun multiple times between 2014 and 2016. A division bench of the Kerala High Court had also said that it was satisfied with the way investigations are being carried on by the police.
The Logical Indian take
The police and the authorities have failed to take any concrete action on this matter even after 70 days since the matter has come to light. All this is despite the sisters carrying an unprecedented protest against the accused bishop. The Logical Indian hopes that the Police takes immediate steps to ensure that the justice is served.