MUMBAI, India – More nuns have accused an Indian bishop being investigated for rape of harassing them.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar in India’s Punjab state has been accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a nun who belongs to the Punjab-based Missionaries of Jesus religious congregation. The alleged assaults took place on 13 different occasions between 2014-2016 at the nun’s order’s convent in the state of Kerala.
The nun went to the police in Kerala on June 29, and the authorities have since then been investigating the charges.
The bishop has vehemently denied the charges, and says the nun is retaliating against him for investigating a complaint she had an affair with a married man.
In the latest twist in the case, three more women have accused the bishop of inappropriate actions.
One nun, who has since left the Church, told investigators Mulakkal touched her inappropriately several times, according to Mathrubhumi, a newspaper in Kerala.
According to the newspaper, the nun said that the bishop also forced her to hug him and had a habit of acting “in a sexually inclined manner.”
The newspaper said two other nuns were also harassed by the bishop.
The family of the nun that originally made the rape allegation went to a court in Kerala on Friday to demand Mulakkal be arrested.
Last week, the nun also said she has received several death threats over the phone since lodging her complaint against the bishop.
She added that the brother of a priest close to the bishop asked to be informed whenever she or any other nun ventures out of the convent. The brother reportedly asked an accused day laborer to damage her motorbike.
The nun also alleged that the same man had threatened her sister in Kalady, which is also in Kerala.
Representatives of more than 14 Catholic and Christian lay organisations were expected to protest in front of the court on Saturday. The groups include the Joint Christian Council and the Kerala Catholic Renewal Movement.
“It is unfortunate that the Church has not initiated any measures against Bishop Franco, though the police have registered an FIR and interrogated him. The High Court also directed the government to arrest the accused bishop at the earliest. We will not end the protest until action against the bishop is taken,” said Joseph Varghese, joint secretary of Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement.
“The Church leadership should seriously address the allegations raised by the nun. Though there were earlier instances of allegations of sexual abuse by priests, it is a rare and first-time incident that a nun openly registered protest and submitted a complaint against the bishop,” said Aneesh Prabhakaran of Mnushyavakasha Koottayma, a human rights organization.
Police say they are continuing to investigate the bishop.
“We need more evidence to incriminate Bishop Mulakkal beyond any doubts,” said Hari Sankar, the district police chief earlier this week.
“We have charted our plans for the next seven days and would verify and cross-check the evidence against the bishop,” Sankar said.
The Mulakkal case is just one of several scandals affecting Christians in Kerala state, which has the largest Christian population in India.
Tax authorities in India have interviewed Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church, in connection with a series of suspicious land deals that caused the Vatican to send a special administrator into his archdiocese.
Last year, the cardinal was accused along with two senior priests and a real estate agent of selling several plots of land illegally, leading to a loss of over $10 million.
Critics said the deal violated both canon and civil law, since the land was sold for well below market value – Indian law forbids the irregular transfer of funds between charitable or religious trusts.
Meanwhile several priests of the Kerala-based Malankara Orthodox Church have been accused of raping a teacher working at a church-affiliated school.
They are accused of blackmailing the woman for sexual favors. One of them had allegedly filmed a sexual encounter with the woman in the 1990s and threatened her with exposure if she didn’t submit.