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

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