By Jose Kavi
Kochi, April 9, 2019: First time in the history of the Catholic Church in India, a bishop will be tried in a court for allegedly raping a nun.
The Kerala police on April 9 submitted a chargesheet in the Magistrate Court in Palai against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar accusing him of offenses under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.
The 74-page chargesheet prepared by the investigative team charged the 54-year-old prelate with Illegal detention, raping a woman taking advantage of his official position, unnatural sex, repeated sexual abuse of the same woman, and criminal intimidation.
He could face life imprisonment if the charges are proved.
The police also have submitted 2,000-page supplementary documents containing confidential statements, says a press note from the Save Our Sisters (SOS) Action Council, an interfaith group that leads the campaign for the alleged rape victim nun.
The police have listed 83 witnesses in the case, including Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, notes the SOS that had in September last year organized a sit-in demanding Bishop Mulakkal’s arrest.
Among other witnesses are Bishops Joseph Kallarangatt of Palai, Kurien Valiakandathil of Bhagalpur and Sebastian Vadakel of Ujjain. The police have listed 25 nuns and 11 priests as witnesses.
Seven magistrates have recorded the statements of 10 key witnesses. The police have submitted more than 30 documents, a laptop and a cell phone along with the chargesheet, the SOS note said.
The case started on June 27, 2018, when the nun, a former superior general of the Missionaries of Jesus, complained to police in Kottayam, that Bishop Mulakkal had sexually abused her 13 times during 2014-2016 at their convent in Kuravilangad, near Palai.
Bishop Mulakkal, who was in charge of the diocesan congregation, denied the allegations.
However police arrested him on September 21, 2018, after three days of intense interrogation at a police station in Thrippunithara near Kochi, Kerala’s commercial and legal capital. The Palai Magistrate Court sent him to judicial custody, but the Kerala High Court released the prelate on bail on October 15, 2018.
As the police failed to file the chargesheet in the court even after five months, the SOS in March threatened to start their indefinite protests in April. They called off the plan on assurance from the police that they would file the chargesheet on April 9.
Among those welcoming the police’s latest action are the five Missionaries of Jesus nuns, who had joined the SOS’s September protest, incurring the wrath of their superiors and Church leaders.
“Our battle is half won,” said Sister Anupama Kelamangalathuveli, spokeswoman for the five nuns who had earlier complained of Church repression. She thanked the police and the public prosecutor for submitting the chargesheet, although it was six months after Bishop Mulakkal’s arrest.
Sister Anupama, as she is popularly known, says they will continue their struggle until the court gives its verdict and punishes the guilty. She alleges the bishop is a powerful person with money and political backing. “We fear that he could intimidate witnesses when the trial begins.”
She also said the alleged rape survivor and the nuns who protested against Mulakkal now live in fear. “We know our lives are in danger,” she claimed. “But we will fight till our last breath. That is our resolve.”
The five nuns had been working in different places in India but returned to the Kuravilangad convent to look after the rape survivor in last April.
“We have succeeded in exposing Mulakkal’s moral bankruptcy,” Sister Anupama said. “We hope the prosecution will succeed in convincing the court of his crime.”
The SOS officials have also said they would be vigilant. The group organized a meeting on April 6 at Vanchi (boat) Square near the Kerala High Court to explain the latest developments in the case. It had threatened to launch another round of protests if the police failed to submit the chargesheet as promised.