Senior Catholic priest Franco Mulakkal, accused of rape by a nun, has written to the Pope offering to "step aside temporarily" as Bishop of the Jalandhar diocese, a move which comes ahead of his appearance before the Kerala Police on Wednesday to join the investigation in the case.
Senior Catholic priest Franco Mulakkal, accused of rape by a nun, has written to the Pope offering to “step aside temporarily” as Bishop of the Jalandhar diocese, a move which comes ahead of his appearance before the Kerala Police on Wednesday to join the investigation in the case. A spokesman of the diocese told PTI that the Bishop wrote to the Pope Sunday. The bishop has written “a letter to Holy Father Pope Francis expressing his desire to step aside temporarily and requested to be relieved from the administration of the diocese,” the Jalandhar diocese said in a release.
The bishop’s move came ahead of his appearance before the Special Investigation Team of Kerala Police on September 19 in response to the summons asking him to join the investigation and amid continued protests seeking his arrest. The Kerala-based nun had accused the clergyman of sexually assaulting her 13 times between 2014 and 2016 during his visits to the Jalandhar-diocese run convent at Kuruvilangad in Kottayam district. The bishop has, however, dismissed the allegations as “baseless and concocted”.
The diocese release said the Bishop expressed his desire to step aside in the background of what it claimed was the Kerala High Court’s “opinion in favour of Bishop Franco which says, there is lack of adequate evidence for the Bishop’s arrest indicating his innocence”. “He decided on his own to make his request to Holy Father. He is confident that his request will be accepted by the Vatican,” the release said.
The bishop had last week handed over administrative responsibility of Jalandhar diocese to Msgr Mathew Kokkandam in his absence ahead of his Kerala visit. The decision to summon the clergyman was taken last week after a meeting chaired by Vijay Sakhare, Inspector General (Ernakulam range), amid mounting pressure on police to initiate action against Mulakkal.
Kottayam District Superintendent of Police Hari Sankar said in Kottayam that the Punjab Police has informed the SIT that the Bishop would appear before them on September 19. The Jalandhar diocese spokesman, however, refused to disclose the details of the Bishop’s Kerala travel plan. Meanwhile, the protest by various Catholic reformation organisations and a group of nuns seeking arrest of the Bishop entered the 10th day Monday with the sister of the rape survivor joining the agitation seeking justice.
Several catholic priests have visited the protest venue here expressing their solidarity with their agitation. The Kerala Catholic Bishop Council (KCBC) had slammed the nuns’ protest, saying it has “crossed all limits”. The nun had recently sought urgent intervention of the Vatican for justice and demanded the bishop’s removal as the head of the Jalandhar diocese, questioning why the church was “closing its eyes to the truth” when she had mustered courage to make public her suffering. She has alleged that Bishop Mulakkal was using “political and money power” to “bury” the case against him.
The bishop has claimed there were “several contradictions” in the evidence collected against him by the police probing the case. “I leave everything into the hand of God as I await the result of the findings of the team probing the allegation,” he had said in a circular last week.