Bishop in the dock
An unprecedented protest by a group of nuns in Kerala leads to the arrest of a bishop on the charge of raping a nun.
THE Bishop of Jalandhar, Franco Mulakkal, was finally arrested by the Kerala police on September 21. This was more than a year after a nun belonging to the Missionaries of Jesus congregation under his diocese began complaining to Church authorities about being raped and sexually abused by him and 86 days after she had filed a police complaint about it.
The lack of any action against the bishop for days on end was in stark contrast to what had been happening in the streets of Kerala in the fortnight before his arrest. From September 8, Kerala had been witnessing unprecedented scenes of a group of five nuns from the same congregation staging a protest at a square opposite the Kerala High Court in Ernakulam in solidarity with the complainant—with the support of Catholic and civil rights groups, priests, several prominent persons and a large section of the general public—demanding the arrest of the bishop.
It soon grew in numbers, and the Save Our Sisters Action Council kept vigil day and night, putting pressure on the authorities for action against the bishop. For the first time, then, the country saw the police questioning a bishop as an accused in a rape case filed by a nun, for over three days, and eventually registering his arrest late in the night on September 21.
“The Catholic Church has concern only for bishops and priests. We would like to know, is there any provision in canon law for justice for nuns and women?” the 44-year-old nun had said in a seven-page letter she wrote to the Vatican’s ambassador to India (Apostolic Nuncio to India), Giambattista Diquattro. Earlier, the nun had accused Franco Mulakkal of sexually abusing and raping her on 13 occasions spread over two years from 2014 at a convent run by the congregation at Kuravilangad in Kottayam district. She is a member of the Syro-malabar church, the largest Eastern Rite Catholic Church with over 30 dioceses spread over India and elsewhere and with over 2.5 million members. The Missionaries of Jesus congregation is based in Jalandhar, Punjab, and works under the Jalandhar diocese of the Latin Rite church that was being run by Franco Mulakkal.
The alleged rape took place in Kerala, the home State of both the bishop and the nun. Priests from the diocese reportedly often stay at a guest room in the convent while visiting their home States. The nun filed her complaint before the police only on June 28, that too after the bishop
BISHOP FRANCO MULAKKAL September 21, in Tripunithura. after the Kerala Police arrested him on