Kerala police lay formal charges against Mgr Mulakkal

The suspended bishop of Jalandhar is also accused of abusing his dominant position. He could get life in prison. This is the first for the Indian Church that a prelate's name appears in formal charge sheet.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Kerala police arraigned Mgr Franco Mulakkal, suspended bishop of Jalandhar (in Indian Punjab), in connection with accusations of the multiple rape of the superior of the Missionaries of Jesus between 2014 to 2016 and with "abusing his dominant position".

For the first time in the history of the Catholic Church in India, the name of one of its bishops appears in a police charge sheet in a case that risks further aggravating the open wound inside the Church. If convicted, the prelate could get life in prison.

The case became public last September when five nuns began a protest demanding justice for the victim. Mgr Mulakkal was eventually arrested, spent three weeks behind bars and was released on bail pending trial.

In the wake of the accusations, Pope Francis temporarily relieved the bishop of hid duties upon his request, placing Mgr Agnelo Gracias, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Mumbai, at the help of the Diocese of Jalandhar.

For months, the case has been a major issue discussed within the Catholic community, especially after the five sisters asked for protection fearing for their lives following their public protests and the mysterious death of a priest who was a key witness in the case.

Mgr Franco has always claimed his innocence and has asked to be relieved of his duties in order to defend himself in a possible trial.

The prelate has repeatedly said that the accusations against him are “baseless and concocted”, claiming that his accuser was involved in an illicit affair and fabricated the case out of revenge because he had removed her from her post as superior.

Despite his legal troubles, the bishop remains well loved in his diocese, and was warmly welcomed when he left prison.

For Save Our Sisters, the forum of sisters and Church members who have helped the nuns in this period, the formal charges are a victory.

In an official statement, the Forum said that the case has entered "the annals of history as a rarest of rare incident,” in which “a bishop is going to face trial in a court based on the complaint of a nun who is a subordinate to him.”

Mgr Mulakkal is the official patron of the raped nun’s congregation. (NC)