Indian Bishop Is Acquitted on Charges of Raping a Nun

NEW DELHI – A Catholic bishop accused of repeatedly raping a nun in southern India over a two-year period was acquitted on Friday, ending for now what appeared to be the first case of this type in the country.

The bishop, Franco Mulakkal, who had been on trial since 2020, had always said he was innocent. “Praise the Lord,” he said after the verdict in the town of Kottayam in the state of Kerala.

The judge overseeing the trial, G. Gopakumar, said prosecutors failed to prove their case, according to news reports. Kerala investigators said the decision would be appealed to a higher court.

The case, believed to be the first in India in which a bishop has been accused of raping a nun, has exposed deep divisions within the country’s Catholic Church. The church was slow to react to the nun’s accusations against Bishop Mulakkal, and she did so only after five of her sisters publicly protested in support of her.

Father Augustin Vattoli, who helped organize a group involved in the protests in Kerala, said the nuns had not given up.

“The verdict is a big, big shock to us,” Fr Vattoly said. “But we will continue the fight against the notorious system of the Church, which weighs heavily behind the perpetrators of injustices like Franco Mulakkal.”

The nun, who belongs to the religious order of the Missionaries of Jesus, first took her accusations to church authorities in January 2017. She approached nearly a dozen church officials, including bishops, a cardinal and priests. Vatican officials.

In official police complaints, the nun’s family said the assaults took place at her convent, St. Francis Mission Home, in Kerala, which is home to many of India’s 20 million Catholics.

Just before Bishop Mulakkal was arrested and briefly detained in September 2018, the church removed him from his administrative duties in the northern Indian city of Jalandhar, where he was serving. Formal charges were brought against him in April 2019, weeks after Pope Francis acknowledged that the sexual abuse of nuns by priests was a persistent problem within the church.

The Bishop was accused of raping the nun nine times between 2014 and 2016, during visits he made to Kerala. He was also charged under laws against intimidation, forcible confinement and unnatural sex.

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