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Accused hailed and acquitted, victim shamed by Court and Church: A timeline of the Bishop Franco Mulakkal case

On January 14, 2022, the Additional Sessions Court at Kottayam acquitted Bishop Franco Mulakkal in the nun rape case. Live Law reported that the trial Court discarded the testimony of the victim completely in contravention with the well-settled principles of law.

The Kerala nun rape case has been at the epicentre of the news once again after primary accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal was acquitted of all charges by a trial court on January 14 this year.

The Bishop, who headed the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jalandhar, was accused of raping a nun on 13 occasions at the Missionaries of Jesus convent in Kottayam between 2014 and 2016. The victim had registered a complaint against him with Kuravilangad police on June 29, 2018.

For the first time in the history of Kerala, a group of nuns had defied their vows to protest against Church atrocities and the attempts by the police to hush up the incident.

Franco Mulakkal was charged under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 342 (wrongful confinement), 376 (c)(a) sexual intercourse by a person in authority), 376(2)(k) (sexual intercourse by exhorting authority), 377 (unnatural sex) and 506 (criminal intimidation). 

Bishop Franco Mulakkal was interrogated for 7 hours at Thrippunithura. He was eventually arrested on September 22, 2018, and remanded to judicial custody. Here is a timeline of the events that unfolded in the sensational case.

Grand welcome for rape accused in Jalandhar

On October 17, 2018, Bishop Franco Mulakkal was welcomed like a hero at Jalandhar after he was granted conditional bail by the Kerala High Court. The rape accused Bishop was showered with rose petals and also garlanded by his supporters as he reached the Bishop House around 5 pm.

The embracing of an accused, who was out on conditional bail had resulted in not only victim-shaming but also depicting the accused as an ‘innocent’. The resounding welcome given to Bishop Franco raised questions on the integrity of the Church apparatus and its intentions. Some social media users questioned the silence of so-called ‘feminists’ and ‘placard activists’ over the grand welcome given to the rape accused.

Targeted harassment of Sister Lucy by the Catholic Church

Sister Lucy Kalapura is one of the five nuns who took out protests against rape accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal. In September 2018, she was removed from performing duties related to the Church for demanding the arrest of the rape accused.

While speaking to Times Now, sister Lucy Kalapura revealed that when she reached the convent, the Mother Superior informed her that she had to relieve herself from her duties of holding catechism classes, conducting prayers and other church-related duties.

The nun, disturbed by the church’s decision said that this was the price she was being made to pay for standing by the truth. Criticising the church authorities she said that instead of raising voice against the accused who has been involved in such a colossal sin, the authorities are instead, taking action against people who have dared to support to the victim.

Saddened by the church’s decision, sister Lucy said, “I have done no wrong nor said anything against the church. No reason has been given for the decision.” She added that she would be happy if the church clarified where she had erred.

Sister Lucy was expelled from the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC) in August 2019 on grounds of indiscipline and failure to provide a satisfactory explanation for her lifestyle ‘in violation of rules’. A few days later, Sister Lucy filed a complaint to the Vellamunda police in Kerala against a convent in Karakkamala at Mananthavady in Wayanad district. She had accused the convent of illegal confinement.

She had found that the gates of the convent locked from outside after which she called the police, who helped unlock the gates. The convent later forced her to withdraw two cases she had filed against it and tender an unconditional apology if she wanted to continue living there.

In December 2019, sister Lucy Kalappura published her autobiography in which she recounted sexual abuses and aberrations prevalent in convents. The nun, who belongs to the order of Franciscan Clarist Congregation in Kerala, was hounded for raising her voice against rape-accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal. She had narrated her life experiences and highlighted instances of sexual abuse and harassment of nuns in the book titled ‘Karthaavinte Naamathil (In The Name of The Lord)’.

The book revealed how Sister Lucy was a silent witness to many incidents where nuns had tried to give expression to their sexual desires. In the book, she revealed that many of the nuns had ‘unholy’ relationships with priests who were in authority and how the priests encouraged such relationships. Sister Lucy wrote about the abuse young nuns faced from priests and elder nuns. Further, she claimed that homosexuality was rampant among nuns and priests.

Mysterious death of Father Kuriakose who spoke out against Bishop Franco Mulakkal

On October 22, 2018, a 60-year-old priest named Father Kuriakose Kattutharaa was found dead in Bhogpur in Jalandhar. He was a vocal critic of rape accused Bishop Franco Mullakkal and had given a statement against him to the police. He worked as a priest and teacher at the Jalandhar diocese. Father Kuriakose’s untimely death fuelled suspicions of foul play in a group of priests.

It must be mentioned the deceased had spoken out about the threats that he received by church officials for supporting the Missionaries of Jesus nun. He had stated, “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”

While speaking to Mathrubhumi news, the deceased’s brother Jose Kattuthara alleged that Father Kuriakose Kattutharaa was killed for giving a statement against Bishop Franco Mulakkal. During the investigation, the police had found blood pressure tablets and vomit on the bed of the deceased.

Systemic Intimidation of nuns and whistleblowers into silence

Besides Sister Lucy Kalappura, the Catholic Church had tried to silence whistleblowers and protesting nuns into silence. Sister Anupama, who spearheaded the protests against Bishop Franco Mulakkal, was heckled and asked to leave the funeral of Priest Kuriakose Kattutharaa on October 25, 2018. The funeral was conducted at the cemetery in St Mary’s Forane Church in Pallippuram in Cherthala.

At the funeral, loyalists of Bishop Franco Mulakkal protested against the presence of Sister Anupama and asked her to leave the cemetery. While reacting to the incident, Sister Anupama broke down in front of the journalists. The nun said that she was ‘deeply hurt’ by the protests.

“Father Kuriakose Kattuthara died while he was standing for the truth. He faced severe mental pressure. I am a member of this parish and I know him for many years. The father had been treating me like his daughter since I joined the convent. I don’t know why some people in my parish speaking against me. We will stand for truth whatever it takes,” remarked Sister Anupama.

On January 16, 2019, four out of the five nuns, who supported the rape survivor, were asked to leave the Kuravilangad convent and go to convents that were previously assigned to them. The letter accused the nuns of  ‘issuing malafide statements’, and spreading baseless stories to ‘tarnish the image’ of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation.

“This is nothing but a vindictive transfer and the game plan of the Church is to split us to different places. Come what may, we will not move from here and we will be with the victim,” Sister Anupama was quoted as saying.

She also added that the rape victim and supporting nuns had been subjected to continued mental pressure. She also expressed fear that the nuns might face the same fate as that of Father Kuriakose.

In November 2018, the Church had warned Father Augustine Vattoly, for protesting alongside the nun, who accused Bishop Franco of rape. The Syro Malabar Church prohibited him from organising and attending dharnas and warned him of action as per Church law. Father Vattoli is the convenor of the “Save Our Sisters”, a campaign seeking justice for the nun.

He had received a letter from Major Archepady of Ernakulam-Angamaly which told him that such action by the priest would “seriously injure the good of the Church in public and will cause scandal among the faithful”. The letter was sent on 11th November, days before the protests were held outside the state secretariat. The letter accused Father Vattoly of inciting sedition and hatred against the Church authorities.

Kerala govt transfered top cops investigating the rape case against Bishop Franco

On June 12, 2019, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led-Kerala government had transferred two police officers who were probing the nun rape case. Kottayam Superintendent of Police Harishankar and Vaikom Deputy SP Subash were issued marching orders by the State government, thereby raising serious questions about possible attempts to sabotage the investigation.

Harishankar and Subash were responsible for the arrest of the rape accused Bishop Franco following a serious interrogation. The two main investigating officials were transferred to low-key posts. The abrupt decision of the Kerala government shocked the rape victim and her supporters.

Sister Anupama, one of the five nuns who led the protests against Franco in August 2018, said that Bishop Franco’s political and financial influence was behind these transfers. “We are in a state of shock after learning about the transfers. This is worrisome,” she told the media.

“The trial in the case began only last month [May 10] and we fear DySP K Subash Kumar’s transfer will affect the case. There have been many attempts to silence some witnesses. His transfer at this stage raises many doubts,” remarked Sister Anupama.

Another nun accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal of sexual abuse

In February 2020, a second nun had accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal of sexual abuse. The second victim is also a witness in the ongoing rape case against the Christian priest. Although the victim had narrated her ordeal to the police in September 2018, she was afraid of registering a complaint about the matter. As a consequence, a second case wasn’t registered against the Bishop.

As per reports, the nun had alleged that the Bishop made sexual remarks and lewd comments in a telephonic conversation with her. She informed that in 2017, Mulakkal visited the convent and proceeded to grab and kiss her. The nun had also alleged that she was forced to display her body by the Bishop. The nun’s statement was recorded in the charge sheet against the Bishop. The nun informed that although she was not interested in the sexually explicit chat, she could not oppose the Bishop due to fear of expulsion from the Church.

“I had to contact the bishop over the phone for some official needs since 2015. But, shortly after the bishop started talks with sexual connotations over the phone, which was disgusting for me. He also talked about sexual acts and later started describing various body parts of me and the bishop. Between April and May 2017, I lived in a convent in Kerala. Franco came to the convent to conduct a probe about my conduct. His driver and Father Antony were with the bishop but they lived in separate rooms. Franco called me to his room and asked me for an explanation. While I was leaving, he hugged me and kissed me on my forehead,” she stated.

Save Our Sisters (SOS) forum had informed that after the second nun gave the statement, the convent made a concerted attempt to silence her by not allowing her to leave the convent or talk to anyone outside.

“After the nun gave this statement, the convent tried to silence her by not allowing her to leave the convent or talk to anyone outside. It was only recently that we got to know about the treatment meted out to her by the convent authorities. That is why we decided to release the statement she gave the police in 2018. This is a statement that she has signed,” said SOS convenorRiju Kanjoorkaran.

Kerala Church put picture of rape accused Bishop on annual calendar

In December 2020, Kerala’s Syro-Malabar Church had published the photograph of rape accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal in their official calendar for 2021. This move was criticised by the followers of the Church, who burnt the copies of the calendar in protest.

As per reports, the Church had not only printed the photograph of Mulakkal on the annual calendar, they also specified his birthday on it. Following criticism from several quarters and burning of calendar copies in Thrissur and Kollam, the Syro-Malabar Church defended its move and claimed that charges against the accused were yet to be proven and that he continued to remain a Bishop.

Managing Editor of Catholica Sabha, Fr Akkamattathil Raphael, stated, “Mulakkal continues to be a Bishop. Only his administrative duties have been taken away. Sp along with birthdays of other Bishops, we mentioned his birthday too. That’s all. He faces some charges and a trial is progressing. Let the verdict come. Some people are needlessly trying to create a controversy against the Church.”

Screengrab of the contentious calendar

The decision of the Syro-Malabar Church was heavily criticised by the members of ‘Save Our Sisters Action Council’. The group, which protects nuns from persecution by the Church authorities, expressed their angst by burning copies of the contentious calendar outside the administrative buildings of the Church in Kollam and Thrissur.

Trial Court junked victim’s testimony, discussed victim’s “character”

On January 14, 2022, the Additional Sessions Court at Kottayam acquitted Bishop Franco Mulakkal in the nun rape case. Live Law reported that the trial Court discarded the testimony of the victim completely in contravention with the well-settled principles of law.

The Additional Sessions Court at Kottayam contended that the victim did not mention ‘rape’ or ‘penile penetration’ in her initial complaint and only alleged that Bishop Franco Mulakkal forced her to ‘share the bed with him.’ The Court lay emphasis on the fact that the victim did not explicitly mention about ‘rape’ in her confessions to the witnesses, without considering the societal stigma attached to it.

The nun had informed that she was not comfortable sharing details of the case in an unsecured environment with a Woman police officer. However, the trial court did not pay heed to her statement.

Although Section 56A of the Indian Evidence Act states that a woman’s past sexual experience is irrelevant to a rape case, the court discussed the ‘character intent’ of the victim to discredit her claims. The trial Court also discussed in detail the relationship of the nun with her cousin’s husband to judge the ‘character’ of the victim.

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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