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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Kerala nun found dead in chapel under Jalandhar Diocese, family cries foul – link to Bishop Franco Mulakkal rape case?

A 30-year-old nun from Alappuzha, Kerala named Mary Mercy was found dead at Faridkot in Punjab. She was living at a chapel under the Diocese of Jalandhar, which is led by the rape and sodomy accused Bishop, Franco Mulakkal, who is currently on a leave of absence.

While authorities are claiming she killed herself, Mercy’s parents suspect foul play and have demanded an investigation.

The nun belonged to an Italian congregation called the Franciscan Immaculatine Sisters and was serving at the Our Lady of Assumption Convent near Sadiq village for the past four years. Church authorities said that she was ‘found hanging’ from the window of the chapel.

A suicide note in Malayalam supposedly written by her and released by the church suggested that she was hounded by loneliness and depression. In the note, Mercy ‘apologized’ to her parents and friends for taking the extreme step.

After church authorities informed her family about the unnatural death, her father John Ouseph lodged a police complaint. He stated that Mercy called them on Monday and that she was not under any kind of stress. She spoke to her parents and her brother and promised to call back on her birthday, December 2. She was happy and was excited. 

Mercy’s family is not ready to believe that she took her life on Tuesday. A press release from the church apparently lied that relatives and the police were intimated before further action was initiated. 

The body was handed over to the church authorities to be taken to her hometown near Arthunkal in the Alappuzha district of Kerala for final rites. Her parents approached the Alappuzha district collector and want a re-postmortem done to discover the cause of death.

A nun has accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal of raping her multiple times over a two-year period between 2014 and 2016. Mulakkal is a powerful figure in Jalandhar and has strong connections with politicians in Punjab and Kerala as well as in the Vatican. The Church hierarchy failed to act on the victim’s initial complaints, and it was only when some other nuns and protestors came on the streets that the matter was heard.

The survivor and other nuns living in the same hostel had repeatedly complained of intimidation and pressure from church authorities. They claimed the church was trying to separate them from the survivor.

Kerala Police dragged its feet to interrogate Mulakkal, and he was finally arrested in September 2018, only to be given bail in just 40 days. After several attempts by Mulakkal’s legal team to get the case dismissed and delay hearings, his trial finally began in September, 2020.

This is not the first time that a mysterious death of someone connected to this rape case is being reported from Jalandhar. In October 2018, a key prosecution witness against Mulakkal was found dead under suspicious circumstances. This happened within days of Franco being granted bail and his return to Jalandhar. 

Catholic priest Kuriakose Kattuthara (62) had given a statement against Godman Franco Mulakkal to the Kerala police. He was found dead on the floor in St. Mary’s Church in Dasuya in Jalandhar. Like Mercy’s case now, his family too had raised protests but that inquiry reached nowhere.

Rights groups believe courts have not done justice thus far, and the Kerala High Court even ordered Sister Lucy to vacate the convent where she was living. Lucy was one of the very few insiders who had raised their voices against Mulakkal and sexual abuse of nuns by the clergy. 

Rare judgments are being passed where local courts have restrained the media from publishing any matter relating to the trial and procedures of the Mulakkal rape case. He had been granted an in-camera trial in a case that allegedly saw him rape and sodomize a nun multiple times. 

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