Bishop Franco Mulakkal, above, was arrested in India last September, but it was not until yesterday (Tuesday) that Kerala police formally charged him with raping a nun on numerous occasions over a period of two years.
Why the delay?
Sister Anupama, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation in Kerala, has suggested that the Catholic Church interfered with the course of justice. In an interview published in February, the nun, who led a campaign calling for Mulakkal’s arrest, accused the Church of using tactics of “isolation, defamation and character assassination” against the bishop’s accusers.
This included an attempt to transfer Anupama and nuns that supported her campaign away from their convent in Kuravilangad. The transfer order was revoked after a couple of weeks.
Anupama, above, said:
The transfer letter issued to us was an act of vengeance by the Church body and had we had moved out, our lives would have been under threat, with no guarantee of protection by the authorities. All this was aimed at punishing us for speaking out against the bishop.
She pointed out:
All of us are on the side of truth and what we want is a safe and secure place for nuns. Over the last two years, there have been many cases of priests in the state who have been accused of committing sexual offenses. Our struggle is for our sisters suffering in silence and we will continue our campaign until all of them get justice.
We were heckled and asked to leave the funeral of priest Kuriakose Kattuthara who died in mysterious circumstances last year. The priest had supported us in the case against Bishop Mulakkal.
This is the first time in the history of the Catholic Church in India that a top clergyman is being tried in court over allegations of sexual assault.
The charge sheet was filed at a court in Kerala by a special investigation team formed to probe the rape allegations. Bishop Mulakkal has been charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including rape, criminal intimidation, unnatural sex and wrongful confinement.
Four Kerala nuns had met the Kottayam Superintendent of Police last month to complain about the delay in filing charges against Mulakkal, and claimed that they were “living in extreme fear”. According to sources, a draft charge sheet had been ready for filing since December.
One of the protesting nuns said:
It’s only through a huge struggle that we have even come to this point of seeing this charge sheet get filed. We believe that we will get justice.
The nuns alleged that they have come under immense pressure over the last few months, with the Church attempting to separate them from the abused nun and even serving warning notices in an alleged attempt to dilute the case.
Said Father Augustine Vattoli, who is part of the Save Our Sisters campaign launched in support of the victim:
Save Our Sisters has always believed that every accused needs to be treated as an accused and not shielded by religion. This charge sheet comes due to the backing of the people of Kerala, who stood with the nuns and the demand for justice.
Bishop Mulakkal is accused of raping the nun on 14 occasions from 2014 to 2016.
Father Kuriakose Kattuthara was found dead at a church in Hoshiarpur’s Dasuya in October last year – months after he deposed against the bishop in the rape case. His fellow priests and family have alleged that he was killed for speaking against Bishop Mulakkal.