MUMBAI, India – Bishop Franco Mulakkal’s lawyers presented his case for bail at the High Court in the Indian state of Kerala on Thursday. Mulakkal has been accused of raping a nun several times between 2014-2016.
The court said it would make its decision on bail on Oct. 3. The bishop has been in jail since Sep. 21, when he was questioned for three days about the charges.
Mulakkal’s counsel lawyers showed the court pictures of the bishop at a social function days after one of the first of the alleged sexual assaults, saying it was evidence the attack never happened.
Mulakkal is the Bishop of Jalandhar, in the northeastern state of Punjab. The nun making the accusation is a member of the Punjab-based Missionaries of Jesus Congregation.
The rapes are alleged to have taken place in the order’s convent in Kuravilangad in the southern state of Kerala.
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.
The bishop has vehemently denied the charges, and says the nun is retaliating against him for investigating a complaint that she had an affair with a married man. The religious congregation has steadfastly defended Mulakkal against the accusations made by the nun, who once held a leadership position in the order. The order has also criticized its own members in the Kuravilangad convent for supporting the nun making the accusations. Several of the religious sisters at the convent participated in demonstrations demanding Mulakkal’s arrest.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Missionaries of Jesus said the police were trying to manipulate the investigation and persuade other nuns to file a complaint against the bishop.
“The accused bishop is innocent, and the police arrested him without any reasons,” the statement said.
“Bishop Franco is innocent and MJ congregation is responsible for crucifying him. Hence, the members of the congregation will be fasting and praying on Wednesday to god, seeking forgiveness,” it continued, claiming the nun had fabricated her story.
“The investigating officers are creating propaganda and are conspiring to create more fake evidence. They are illegally probing against him and also walking into the convents without prior appointment from the convent officials. They are also forcibly directing us to provide statement against him,” the congregation claimed.
“It has been noted that the probe team is eager to prove that the complainant nun revealed to the congregation members about the ‘story of exploitation’ even before a complaint was filed against her by a woman in Delhi,” the statement continued, referring to the allegation that the nun had an affair with a married man.
“We noticed that the investigation team members and the nuns of the Kuravilangad convent have been sharing some lighter moments in the convent till 2 am in the recent days. We would like to assert that this is in violation of the convent rules. We suspect that there is a conspiracy behind the move and they have joined together to create more proof against the bishop,” the statement said.
The religious order also accused the investigation team of “mentally torturing” the nuns in the convents of the congregation, and that many of them are gripped by dear.
“Some have been so badly affected that they had to seek medical help. In the present situation, many nuns are afraid to tell the truth,” the statement said.
A delegation from the religious congregation also met with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday to complain about the conduct of the investigators.
“The bishop has been arrested without any evidence. He is a victim of a witch hunt to tarnish the image of the Missionaries of Jesus,” the nuns told Vijayan.
Earlier this week, Mulakkal was visited by Jacob Muricken, the auxiliary bishop of Pala, which is located in Kerala.
“I was with Bishop Franco for around 15 minutes,” he told Crux.
“Bishop Franco’s faith is strong. He told me that he’s totally innocent. He spends his time praying,” Muricken said.
Mulakkal was also separately visited by P. C. George, a member of Kerala’s legislature who is himself under investigation for calling the nun making the accusation “a prostitute.”
Meanwhile, are also investigating Thomas Chittuparambil, who is accused of plotting to murder the nun making the accusation.
He is the brother Father Lawrence Chittuparambil, a priest of the Diocese of Jalandhar, who has himself been accused of threatening the nun’s sister.