MUMBAI, India – India’s top Catholic prelate says he is raising the issue of a bishop accused of raping a nun with officials at the Vatican.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay and president of India’s bishops’ conference, told Crux he will meet with Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
Gracias is in Rome for the meeting of the Council of Cardinals, the 9-member advisory body established by Pope Francis soon after his election to the papacy.
“I will raise and discuss the matter of Bishop Franco Mulakkal,” Gracias said.
Mulakkal has been accused of raping a nun on 13 different occasions between 2014-2016. The nun went to the police in the southern state of Kerala on June 29, and the civil authorities have since then been investigating the charges.
“Technically, I have no jurisdiction, but as this concerns the Church in India, this issue will be taken up at the Propaganda Fide,” the cardinal said, using the traditional name for the Vatican congregation.
Although Gracias heads the India bishops’ conference, the disciplining of any individual bishop is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Holy See.
Mulakkal is the Bishop of Jalandhar, in the northwestern Punjab state, the same state where the nun’s order – the Missionaries of Jesus – is headquartered.
The sexual assaults were alleged to have taken place at the order’s convent in Kuravilangad in Kerala.
Mulakkal 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.
Kerala is the state with the highest percentage of Christians in India and provides many of the clergy and religious throughout the country. The Kuravilangad convent had special housing for Kerala-born clergy visiting home, where Mulakkal stayed when visiting the state.
On Wednesday, police in Kerala asked the bishop to appear before the investigating team on Sep. 19, having last interviewed him in Jalandhar on Aug. 13.
“There are a lot of contradictions in the case. This is an old case based primarily on oral evidence. We have verified a lot of contradictions. It’s our duty to protect the victim and witnesses,” said Vijay Sakhare, the police officer in charge of the case.
On Tuesday, Mulakkal gave an interview in which he called the nun making the allegations “a liar” and said he would cooperate with the police investigation in the case.
Several nuns have been protesting the bishop since Saturday in Kochi, Kerala’s largest city.
The nun’s order came out with a statement on Monday supporting Mulakkal, saying he was an “innocent soul” that was being “crucified” by the allegations.
Earlier this month, the nun making the allegations lodged a complaint with the police after someone disabled the brakes on her motorbike at her convent. She also said she has received several death threats over the phone since lodging her complaint against the bishop and that her sister was also threatened.
Officials said on Wednesday they had the nun under protection.
“The government is with the victim. There is no need for any anxiety. We’ll take the right decision at the right time. Police will book the culprits with the support of evidence. The investigation is on the right path. No one should try to cause offense to the modesty of a woman,” said E.P. Jayarajan, a minister in the Kerala state government.
Gracias told Crux the bishops would “discuss and investigate the matter” when he returned to India.
The Mulakkal case is just one of several sexual abuse scandals hitting the Catholic Church, including a cover-up crisis in Chile, the release of a damning report on decades of clerical abuse in Pennsylvania, and the revelations that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had a “credible and substantiated” allegation of child sex abuse lodged against him, in addition to longstanding rumors he had sexual relations with seminarians and priests.
Gracias discussed the abuse crisis with the other members of the Council of Cardinals during their meetings this week in Rome, at the end of which it was announced Francis had requested all presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world to travel to Rome for a special meeting to address the issue Feb. 21-24, 2019.
“We want to firstly create awareness of the seriousness of the issue. Secondly, we want to discuss how past cases have been dealt with and the care of the victim and survivors. Thirdly, and importantly, we want to look at prevention of such things in the future,” Gracias told Crux.
The cardinal said a document regarding abuse will also be discussed during the February meeting dealing with the care of survivors.