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Friday, March 24, 2023

Bishop Franco Mulakkal – a tale of power, rape, murder, politics and extra-legal reach of Indian Church

Franco Mulakkal is a dangerous suspended bishop of the Roman Catholic Church based out of Jalandhar. In June 2013, he was appointed by Pope Francis. He has the dubious distinction of being the first bishop in Bharat to be arrested after being accused of rape. Other pastors and Christian clergy have been arrested but never a bishop.

In June 2018, a nun came forward and accused Franco Mulakkal of abusing his position and raping her multiple times between 2014 and 2016. She was also sodomised. This happened at the convent in Kerala where the nun was living. By September, the local police had questioned the nun multiple times but the bishop was not interrogated even once. 

Five nuns living at the convent had to come out in demonstration, before even an FIR was recorded. Various other Catholic outfits joined in the chorus for police action against Mulakkal. 

By September 2018, the bishop’s stooges had swung into action. The nun and her family were offered a specific amount of money and land to hush up the case. They were advised on the futility of moving against “people in high places”. When they didn’t relent they started receiving death threats. All this while the victim was crying that the higher ups in the police were themselves trying to sabotage the case. No action has been initiated against either the bishop’s accomplices or the high ranking officials. Why?

The church meanwhile started a smear campaign and accused the nun (who was a virgin to them till then) of having illicit relations.  A local MLA, P.C. George, himself a controversial figure, stepped in on behalf of the bishop. He accused the nun of being a prostitute – in extremely crude language he said that the nun ‘enjoyed 12 times’ and cried foul only during the 13th incident. 

The then National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson Rekha Sharma, condemned George and added that the bishop should be punished. She added that legislators like George are a shame to women whereas lawmakers like him are supposed to help women. George was later summoned to New Delhi by the NCW. He retracted his words and apologised, and was let off without any further action. Why?

The church meanwhile published its own ‘findings’. They released a photograph of the victim and the bishop attending a function together. This was done to further malign the raped nun. Clearly they knew that revealing the identity of a rape victim is against the law.

They accused the victim and the five other nuns of not renewing their vows. Interestingly, the visitors register at the convent went missing from the convent. So did the CCTV footage during the period of accusation. The church in its findings found that having been influenced by atheists, the nuns had conspired to malign the bishop. No action was taken against the congregation of the church. Why?

The nuns released a letter written by the victim to the pope listing around fifteen people in the church hierarchy to whom she had already complained about rape. The nun went on to add that the church was closing its eyes to the truth. This happened after no action was taken by the pope against the bishop.

The Kerala police did form a team and sent them to Jalandhar for further investigations. The media that accompanied them to the church were attacked and intimidated. The media then approached the local Punjab police. The SHO was confronted by journalists with evidence of threat calls from the accomplices of the bishop. An aggressive SHO denied the fact there are any complaints received against the bishop. Why was no action taken then?

The ruling CPM accused the protesting nuns of trying to tarnish the image of their party in Kerala. This was happening against the back drop of another rape charge, this time levelled against CPM MLA P.K. Sasi who was accused of rape by a female party member. Instead of filing a police complaint, the CPM was trying hard to hush up things within the party. When asked about the Sasi rape case, another CPM MLA and the Kerala State Women’s Commission Chairperson, MC Josephine said that ‘mistakes do happen’. Why has no action been taken against Sasi till date? 

Finally the court did remand Franco Mulakkal to a sub jail in Kerala. This happened towards the end of September. But by mid October he was released on bail. He went back to Jalandhar to a rousing stage-managed reception by his acolytes. 

Immediately after his release from jail, a key witness in the rape case, Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in Hoshiarpura. When Kuriakose had supported the victim nun, he was transferred by Mulakkal to the church at Hoshiarpura. The deceased man’s family cried out loud that the police and the bishop had killed him. No action has been taken till date.

Last week, another nun has come forward accusing the same bishop Franco Mulakkal of sexual abuse. She had also written to the church authorities of harassment by Mulakkal. The police version is that the nun didn’t complain and so no case was registered. Is this how sexual abuse cases are handled in Bharat? 

The CPM is afraid of losing the Christian vote-bank and will not speak on behalf of the victims. When will the Church be held accountable for the ever-increasing cases of rape, abuse and even murder stacking up against its clergy? When will the media, intelligentsia and courts wake up? 

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