Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar was arrested by Kerala police Friday, accused of raping a nun multiple times between 2014 and 2016. He is the first Catholic bishop to be arrested in a sexual abuse case against a nun in India.
The 5 p.m. arrest occurred after 15 hours of police questioning spanning days at a high-tech interrogation cell in Thrippunithura, a suburb of Kochi, the commercial hub of Kerala.
The case emerged on June 28 when a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under the Jalandhar Diocese, accused the prelate of subjecting her to rape and unnatural sex on 13 occasions over a two-year period at her convent in Kuravilangad, south of Kochi.
During the police interrogation, Mulakkal denied the charges, calling them "concocted." He said the nun was upset with him for advising the congregation's leaders to act on a married woman's complaint that the nun had had an affair with her husband.
Television channels in Kerala reported that Mulakkal could not offer proper responses when the police presented documents contradicting his statements. The investigators noted that Mulakkal advised the congregation's leaders to take action against his accuser five months after she had complained to church authorities about the abuse.
The interrogators also refuted Mulakkal's stand that he had not visited the nun's convent on May 5, 2014, when the nun says she was raped for the first time. Police had retrieved mobile tower location data showing the bishop was at the nun's convent on that date.
After the arrest, Mulakkal was to undergo a medical examination and be presented to a local magistrate, who is expected to send him to police custody for further questioning.
The arrest came a day after Pope Francis appointed retired Auxiliary Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias of Bombay as the temporary apostolic administrator of Jalandhar Diocese. On Sept. 16, Mulakkal had asked the pope for temporary relief from his episcopal ministry and appointed Msgr. Mathew Kokkandam, the vicar general, as administrator of Jalandhar.
A group of Missionaries of Jesus nuns who have held a sit-in at a busy intersection in Kochi since Sept. 8 in support of their sister applauded the arrest.
"We came to the streets only because we did not get justice from the church and the government," Sister Anupama, the nuns' spokesperson, told media representatives. The sisters, who have drawn support from various sections of society, said their strike would end with Mulakkal's arrest.
A biological sister of the nun accusing the bishop of rape who had joined the protesters recently with a hunger strike was sent to a hospital Sept. 19 as her health deteriorated.
[Jose Kavi is the editor-in-chief of Matters India, a news portal focusing on religious and social issues in India. This article is part of a collaboration between GSR and Matters India.]