By Matters India Reporter
Jalandhar, Oct. 17, 2018: Bishop Franco Mulakkal was on October 17 given a rousing welcome on his return to Jalandhar, a town in the northern Indian state of Punjab.
The 54-year-old bishop, accused of repeatedly raping a nun, was released on bail a day earlier from a jail in Kerala, southern India.
He became the first Catholic bishop in India to go to jail for a sexual abuse case on September 21 when the Kerala Police arrested him after three days of interrogation. The Kerala High Court on October 15 granted him conditional bail.
At the Jalandhar reception, Bishop Mulakkal was seen smiling as his followers threw rose petals and garlanded him.
“The prayers of the people of Punjab supported me. I believe that they will pray for me even in the days to come. I thank everyone. Investigation is underway and I am co-operating. I’m a law abiding citizen and I trust the legal system of the country,” he told reporters.
The bishop also said he was arrested under pressure. He compared his arrest and imprisonment with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
However, Roshan Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Mahasabha (grand council) of Jalandhar, says Bishop Mulakkal’s return has divided the diocese.
The Vatican on September 20 temporarily removed Mulakkal from the post of Jalandhar bishop and appointed Retired Auxiliary Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias as the apostolic administrator.
Joseph points out that Bishop Gracias has retained the same team that Bishop Mulakkal had appointed to guide the diocese before leaving for Kerala to face police interrogation.
The lay leader said the reception for Bishop Mulakkal was organized without the apostolic administrator’s permission. “Some individual priests organized the reception by providing people transportation and food,” he alleged.
“This unofficial reception has divided the faithful and religious leaders into two camps,” Joseph said.
He regretted such division would hamper the efforts of native priests such as Father Martin Sadiq to unite local Catholics and religious.
Joseph also said the local Catholics had felt insulted because of the rape case. “But they have not left the Catholic Church. They are very strong in their faith,” he added.
The lay leader foresees problem for the diocese if Bishop Mulakkal remains there.
“If Bishop Mulakkal remains here, the diocese will face many problems because fights could break out any time between the two camps,” he warned.
Earlier on September 25, a group native priests and lay leaders had demanded a son of the soil to be made the next bishop of Jalandhar.
Bishop Mulakkal was released on bail after executing a bond for 200,000 rupees with two solvent sureties each for the sum. The bail order also mentions that the bishop should not enter Kerala until the charge sheet is filed.
He will also have to appear before the investigating officer on alternate Sundays for a period of two months or until the charge sheet is filed.
The bishop’s passport was also deposited before the court.
During his stay in the prison, the bishop’s identity was Remand Prisoner number 5968.
A member of the Missionaries of Jesus had on June 28 filed the police complaint of sexual abuse by the bishop at the Kuravilangad convent during the period 2014-2016.