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Friday, July 26, 2024

After Rape Accused Godman Franco Mulakkal Freed on Bail, Key Witness Dies Mysteriously

In a shocking turn to the case of rape-accused Catholic Bishop Franco Mulakkal, a key prosecution witness was found dead in suspicious circumstances on Monday morning near Jalandhar, Punjab.

Catholic priest Kuriakose Kattuthara (62), who had given a statement against Godman Franco Mulakkal to the Kerala police in the rape case of a nun from Missionaries of Jesus, was found dead on the floor in St. Mary’s Church in Dasuya in Jalandhar. Kattuthara was under the Jalandhar diocese which is headed by Mulakkal.

Although the exact cause of his death is not known yet, Kuriakose’s family and other witnesses in the case suspect a conspiracy in his death, reports The NewsMinute.

“It was found that he vomited over the bed. Blood pressure tablets were found at the spot,” said AR Sharma, DSP Dasuya. “Our team has gone to the spot and is investigating the matter,” he added, as per a report in Outlook.

In an interview to Mathrubhumi, Kuriakose had said, “The sisters had approached me complaining about Bishop Franco. They did not approach the Kerala police fearing the bishop. In fact, I fear what will happen to me for speaking out against him.”

His brother, Jose Kattuthara, told Mathrubhumi that he was suspicious about his brother’s death, and alleged that he had been killed for giving a statement against Bishop Franco Mulakkal.

Earlier, Kuriakose had claimed that he was under severe pressure by Catholic Church officials for his support of the nun who has accused the bishop of rape. He was a vocational teacher at the Jalandhar diocese and had also taught the survivor nun and other nuns who protested for justice in this case. SP Harishankar, who is investigating the rape case, confirmed to The NewsMinute that Kuriakose Kattuthara was a prosecution witness against Bishop Franco in the case.

Sister Anupama, who had led the protests against Bishop Franco, told The News Minute, “We are very shocked to hear this news. Father Kuriakose has taught me and he was part of our parish as well. He was a crucial witness in our case as he had given statements against Bishop Franco to the police. I haven’t been in touch with him but I had heard from other priests that he had been facing a lot of pressure of late, with many in the church pointing fingers at him. We feel the circumstances of his death are suspicious and may affect our case against Bishop Franco.”

One nun’s battle for justice against might of Vatican-appointed Church hierarchy

Franco Mulakkal was released on conditional bail on 16 October by Kerala High Court, after just 24 days in custody. He received a hero’s welcome upon his return to Jalandhar dioceses, with rose petals & rupee notes being showered on him by his followers.

Credit: Times of India

A 43-year-old nun, also a mother superior with the Missionaries of Jesus congregation based in Punjab, had complained to the police in June that Mulakkal, 54, had raped her 13 times between 2014 and 2016.

The nun approached police after exhausting all options to get justice within the church. She approached the Vicar of her parish, Kodanad, Bishop of Pala diocese, Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Cardinal Mar Alencherry and even the Vatican directly by e-mail and through its envoy in Bharat, all in vain.

Even after her formal complaint on 27 June, Kerala police continued to drag its feet and did not dare to call the Bishop for interrogation or question him in Punjab. The nun’s family continued to fight for justice, informing the media about all the tactics being used to silence them, including an alleged offer of Rs. 5 crore as hush money. The Jalandhar diocese even ousted the identity of the victim and attempted to blame and shame her following the allegations.

Despite mounting pressure, the Kerala Government refused to issue the desired orders to its police force. Finally, a group of brave nuns decided to break ranks with the Church and came out openly in support of the victim. They launched a 13-day street protest, and many, including the sister of the victim, even took part in a hunger strike.

This mounting public pressure finally led to the Bishop being summoned for direct questioning, and his subsequent arrest on 21 Sept. It was the first time in the country that a bishop was arrested. 

Catholic Priests who came to support the protest by nuns demanding the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, at High Court Junction in Kochi. | Credit: New Indian Express

Bishop Mulakkal had moved an anticipatory bail plea in the Kerala High Court prior to his arrest. Soon after the arrest, his remand was extended by the Pala magistrate court, rejecting his bail application. The magisterial court had remanded him to 12-day judicial custody on September 24.

Soon after, the Kerala High Court, had on October 3 rejected the bail plea of the bishop. The court dismissed the plea while accepting the prosecution argument that the accused, holding a high position in society, would try to influence witnesses in the case, if he was granted bail.

Interestingly, while opposing the initial bail plea of the Bishop, the prosecution had said, “Four other cases have been registered at different police stations for trying to influence witnesses in the case at the instance of the accused. Around 10 acres of land and 5 crore were offered to witnesses who were in favour of the prosecution.”

On 11 October, the Bishop again filed a bail plea in the Kerala High Court, claiming that as he was no longer in charge of the Jalandhar diocese he was in ‘no position to dominate or influence witnesses’ as prosecution had earlier claimed, and also stating that the ‘witnesses have been given full protection’.

This time, in a visible change in its stance compared to previous hearings, the prosecution did not object to the bishop’s bail plea. The Kerala High Court hence granted Mulakkal bail on conditions, including asking the bishop not to enter Kerala after his release, to surrender his passport, and present himself before the police every fortnight. 

Even after the Bishop’s arrest vindicated the nuns’ protest, the all-male Church hierarchy did not relent. Kerala Catholic Bishop Council (KCBC) slammed the protests as having “crossed all limits”;  the Missionaries of Jesus congregation ordered an inquiry against the nuns and alleged that their protest was sponsored by “external forces”.

This case is yet another example of the extra-constitutional approach taken by Christian Churches of all denominations, who believe that they are only answerable to an external sovereign power such as the Vatican, or subject to ‘Canon law’ rather than the laws of Bharat. Case after case of sexual abuse within the Church has seen similar cover ups by Church higher-ups, while ‘secular’ Governments, media and law & order machinery look the other way.

The contrast with how our system works when a Hindu religious figure is accused of such crimes couldn’t be starker.

Let’s look at the timeline of events when 72-year-old Asaram Bapu was accused of rape –

1.) A 16-year-old girl accused Asaram Bapu of sexually assaulting her on the night of 15 August, 2013 and she lodged a police complaint on 20 August, 2013.

2.) The issue was discussed in Indian Parliament and strict action was demanded.

3.) When Asaram Bapu did not appear for interrogation by 31 August, Delhi Police booked him under multiple non-bailable sections of IPC

4.) Jodhpur police arrested Asaram Bapu from his Indore ashram on 1 September, after clashes with his disciples, and flew him to Jodhpur.

5.) Asaram Bapu was denied bail 12 times – including by the Supreme Court which said “unless the critical witnesses in the case are examined, Asaram would not be set free on bail.”

6.) On 25 April 2018, Asaram Bapu was pronounced guilty of the rape charges and imprisoned for life with a fine of ₹5 Lakh to be paid to the victim. Two of his aides were also convicted and sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment each.

Time between initial police complaint and arrest 

Asaram Bapu – 11 days

Bishop Franco Mulakkal – 2 months 25 days

Bail granted after arrest

Asaram Bapu – NO (in jail for 4 years & 9 months until found guilty, bail refused 12 times)

Bishop Franco Mulakkal – Bail denied twice, granted the third time after just 24 days in jail

Now, with the suspicious death of a prime witness, will the Kerala Government’s prosecution team regret its earlier decision not to oppose Godman Franco Mulakkal’s bail plea?

Will the liberal-secular mainstream media, constitutional moralists and Lutyens’ intelligentsia, grill Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan and CPM’s supreme comrade Sitaram Yechury for allegedly botching up this case in order to avoid upsetting the powerful Catholic Church?

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