By Samuel Mathai
Kottayam: Almost two years after a Catholic Nun accused a Bishop of rape and intimidation, the trial started August 13. A district court judge in Kerala read the charges aloud to Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar.
This is the first case in which a Catholic bishop in India involved. The trial will resume on September 16 with the testimony of the victim and cross-examination.
Judge G. Gopakumar of the Additional District and Sessions Court in Kottayam read out a brief statement of charges that said Bishop Mulakkal had repeatedly raped the victim, a former superior general of the Missionaries of Jesus, and intimidated her with the influence of his office.
The victim nun has accused Mulakkal of subjecting her to rape and sodomy 13 times between 2014 and 2016.
Judge Gopakumar listed the dates of the alleged crimes in the congregation’s convent at Kuravilangad, a village near Kottayam.
The proceedings were open to the public, but the court, maintaining COVID-19 protocols, has not permitted visitors or media inside the court.
The 2,000-page charge-sheet includes statements of the accused and witnesses, the police investigation’s findings and supporting documents.
Asked for his reaction, Mulakkal, 56, told reporters, “I pray the hidden truth be brought out” through the trial.
The court has summoned the rape survivor to testify on September 16 and respond to questions.
“The process of trial in the case has begun after framing the charges against Bishop Mulakkal. Now the court will examine the survivor and other witnesses in the case,” said public prosecutor Jithesh J. Babu.
The case has 83 witnesses, including Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Eastern Rite, Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church.
Bishop Mulakkal maintained his innocence and said he is a victim of conspiracy and vengeance. For, he had ordered a probe against the nun into her alleged financial mismanagement and other issues.
Courts reject Bishop’s pleas
The Indian judiciary had rejected the bishop’s efforts to get his case dismissed at various levels. The trial court on March 16, Kerala High Court on July 7 and the Supreme Court on August 5 had rejected Mulakkal’s appeals.
On July 13, the Kottayam court cancelled the bail and issued arrest warrant against Mulakkal as he missed 13 dates. The court seized 200,000 rupees each from two guarantors and 200,000 rupees personal guarantee of the bishop. The 600,000 rupees forfeited totals about $8,000.
After tested positive for COVID-19, Mulakkal approached the court July 17 to restore his bail and cancel the arrest warrant. The court asked police to verify the medical certificate and stayed his arrest until August 7.
On August 7, the accused surrendered, and the Kottayam court restored his bail, as he promised to attend future dates. The court directed Mulakkal and his two new guarantors to deposit surety Rs 600,000.
Ego of church leaders brings bad name
A Capuchin Br. Dominic Pathiala cited the Mulakkal case as an example of how the ego of some church leaders brings a bad name to Christians in India.
“The highhandedness of the bishops leads to serious damage to the church’s credibility. And ordinary people have to bear the brunt,” the priest said.
Pathiala regrets that other bishops have aligned with Mulakkal and refused to listen to the survivor who demanded justice. “The bishops think they are the church,” he added.
He alleged that the 2020 directory of the Indian Catholic Church is faulty. It still lists Mulakkal as Jalandhar bishop. But the Vatican appointed an administrator in his place, he said.
Pathiala said the Indian Church have been spared shame if other bishops had listened to the survivor’s request.
Save Our Sisters
In a guarded reaction, the spokesperson for the survivor Sr. Anupama Kelamangalathuveli and her supporters said, “The court is doing its duty, and we are bound to follow it in the interest of justice.”
Riju Kanjookaran, convener of Save Our Sisters, demanded to oust Mulakkal from the Jalandhar bishop’s house.