NEW DELHI (CNS) -- Indian police charged Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar of repeatedly raping a nun in her rural convent, the Associated Press reported.
The bishop was charged April 9 with rape, illegal confinement and intimidation, said Hari Sankar, a district police chief in the predominantly Catholic state of Kerala.
Bishop Mulakkal was arrested Sept. 21 after a 48-year-old member of the Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under the prelate, complained that he raped her multiple times between 2014 and 2016 while he was visiting her convent in Kerala. The bishop, who was in charge of the congregation, denied the allegations.
The New York Times reported a statement from Save Our Sisters, a group of members of India's Roman Catholic Church, who said the filing of charges "enters the annals of history as a rarest of rare incident, when a bishop is going to face trial in a court based on the complaint of a nun who is a subordinate to him."
The New York Times reported Save Our Sisters said the charge sheet includes statements from 83 witnesses, including a cardinal, three bishops, 11 priests and 25 nuns.
The victim first wrote to church authorities in January 2017, the apostolic nuncio in India in January 2018, and then to Pope Francis May 14, seeking church action against Bishop Mulakkal. She copied prefects of the congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Bishops, and later sent reminders before going to the police.
On Sept. 24, the bishop was taken into judicial custody. The Vatican removed him from diocesan administrative duties, but he retained his title as its bishop.
The Kerala High Court granted bail Oct. 15 on condition that the bishop, based in northern Jalandhar City, should not enter Kerala state other than to report once a fortnight to investigating police.
A week later, Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, 67, considered a prime witness against the bishop, was found dead, with his family suspecting foul play.
The nun's case led to an outcry from women religious, with more reporting cases of abuse.
In November, the International Union of Superiors General called on women religious who have suffered abuse to come forward and report it to their congregations and church and state authorities.
"If the UISG receives a report of abuse, we will be a listening presence and help the person to have the courage to bring the complaint to the appropriate organizations," it added in a statement published on its website Nov. 23.
Global Sisters Report talked to five Missionaries of Jesus in India who complained of church repression for their support of their former superior general, who made the accusations.
"The Catholic Church leadership has been treating us as outcasts after we went public against Bishop Franco Mulakkal (of Jalandhar). Even the Vatican has not bothered to acknowledge our complaints," Sister Anupama Kelamangalathuveli, spokeswoman for five Missionaries of Jesus nuns, told Global Sisters Report earlier this year.
The five sisters were living with the victim in a convent in Kerala state, refusing orders to return to their own communities while the case was ongoing. Retired Auxiliary Bishop Agnelo Gracias of Mumbai, Jalandhar Diocese's administrator, supported their position, but the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council criticized the nuns for stirring up enemies of the church, reported Global Sisters Report.