Former bishop of the Jalandhar diocese of the Catholic Church Franco Mulakkal was acquitted in the Kerala nun rape case on Friday by a trial court. Kottayam Additional District Court judge G Gopakumar announced the verdict.
What is the nun rape case about?
In an FIR filed at the Kuravilangad police station in June, 2018, a senior nun, belonging to the order of the Missionaries of Jesus of the Catholic Church, accused Franco Mulakkal, the then bishop of the Jalandhar diocese of the Church, of raping her and subjecting her to unnatural sex 13 times between 2014 and 2016 at the Mission convent in Kuravilangad.
The Bishop alleged the charges against him were ‘fabricated’ and in retaliation for taking action against her with regard to a complaint raised by a woman.
Shortly after the FIR was registered, in September 2018, a group of nuns close to the victim launched a hunger-strike in front of the Kerala High Court premises in Kochi demanding the arrest of Mulakkal. The protest saw success as Mulakkal was brought to Kochi from Jalandhar, questioned for three days by the police and eventually arrested. He was released on bail nearly a month later.
The trial began in September 2020 and even though Mulakkal approached the High Court and the Supreme Court with a plea to quash the charges against him, the courts refused to entertain the plea.
What are the charges against Mulakkal?
Mulakkal faced a slew of charges including illegal confinement, sexual harassment through abuse of power, unnatural sex, rape and outraging the modesty of a woman. Vaikkom DySP K Subhash was the investigating officer.
The verdict came at the end of the 105-day-long trial in closed court. There were 83 witnesses on the list out of which 39 are said to have given testimonies in favour of the prosecution. The defence paraded nine witnesses. The witnesses include 4 bishops including Major Archbishop George Alencherry of the Syro-Malabar Church, 11 priests, 25 nuns, seven magistrates who gave secret testimonies and the doctor who conducted the medical test.
Why is this case significant?
This is the first time a Catholic Bishop was arrested and booked on charges of rape and sexual harassment in India. Mulakkal was relieved from official duties at the Jalandhar diocese after he was charged by the police in the rape case. The case also shone a bright spotlight on the horrors that nuns face within the Church with hardly any mechanisms in place for grievance redressal. Oftentimes, complaints of harassment against senior clergy go unnoticed and deliberately buried by those in the higher management. The verdict in the case will spur more discussions on the lopsided power structure within the Church and hopefully compel amends.
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