Franco Mulakkal, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jalandhar who was accused of raping and sexually abusing a nun belonging to the Missionaries of Jesus congregation in Kerala under his diocese, was acquitted of all charges against him by the Additional District and Sessions Court I in Kottayam on January 14.
Additional District and Sessions Judge G. Gopakumar merely announced that the accused was being acquitted and details of the judgment are awaited.
While prosecution lawyers told mediapersons that the verdict was totally unexpected and that they will most likely go on appeal after consultations with the government, Superintendent of Police S. Harishankar, the investigation officer, described the verdict as “unacceptable’ and an “astonishing verdict in our judicial system”. Lawyers who represented Franco Mulakkal, however, said: “The prosecution failed. They miserably failed to prove their case.”
Sister Anupama, a fellow nun who has been leading the fight for justice on behalf of the victim from inside the diocese, said: “We cannot yet believe such a verdict. We did not get the justice that we got from the prosecution and the police from the judiciary. But we will continue our fight till our fellow sister gets her justice. You can gain anything if you have wealth and influence, and that is what I think happened here.”
An emotional Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who broke down in the courtroom on hearing the verdict, later told mediapersons: “I prayed that the verdict in God’s court should be reflected in this court on earth too. I am a missionary who has to show the world that there is God and what his power is. God gave me an opportunity for that. People, irrespective of religion or caste, have understood that prayer is powerful.”
Franco Mulakkal was arrested in September 2018 after the nun who headed the Missionaries of Jesus congregation and the St. Francis Mission Home at Kuravilangad in Kottayam district accused him of rape and lodged a complaint against him in June that year before the Kottayam District Police Chief.
The nun alleged that Franco Mulakkal had raped her 13 times during his visits to the convent over two years between 2014 and 2016. A charge sheet was filed against the Bishop in April 2019 for offences punishable under Sections 342, 376 (2)(k) and (n), 377, and 506 (I) of the Indian Penal Code. Franco Mulakkal, however, contended that he had been “falsely implicated in the case by the Sister for having initiated action against her” on some allegations of a financial nature. The trial began in November 2019 and was completed after a long delay on January 10, 2022.