MUMBAI, India – The religious congregation of the nun who has accused a bishop in India of raping her has sided with the bishop, calling him an “innocent soul.”
The Missionaries of Jesus Congregation issued the statement defending Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar after several religious sisters held a protest in Kochi, the largest city in the state of Kerala.
The religious congregation is based in Jalandhar in Punjab state, but the alleged sexual assaults happened at the congregation’s house in Kerala.
“We strongly condemn the protest in Kochi. We cannot crucify an innocent soul based on such allegations,” the statement said.
The alleged assaults took place on 13 different occasions between 2014-2016. The nun went to the police in Kerala on June 29, and the authorities have since then been investigating the charges.
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.
The nun had once held a leadership position in her order, but the relationship between her and her current superiors has obviously been strained by her accusations against the bishop, a longtime friend of the congregation.
“The allegations of rape are totally baseless. During the time the nun alleged that she was raped, we could see that she was coordinating the bishop’s programs in Kerala. She alleged that she was raped on May 5, 2014, but even after that the bishop participated in functions at her house on her invitation,” the statement read.
The nuns who protested over the weekend belong to the order’s convent in Kottayam, to which the religious sister making the allegation belonged.
Last week, three more women have accused the bishop of inappropriate actions.
The team of police officers examining the case said the evidence supports taking Mulakkal into custody, but so far the courts have refused to issue an arrest warrant.
“We have full faith in the investigation being carried out by the Deputy Superintendent of Police. But the top police officials are not giving him permission to take the bishop into custody and do his custodial interrogation,” said one of the protesting nuns, according to NDTV, a local television station.
“They are not allowing him to carry out a free and fair investigation. They are delaying the probe and trying to sabotage the case,” the nun said.
Meanwhile, a member of the state legislature has come under fire for calling the nun making the allegations a “prostitute.”
Quoted by ANI News, the legislator, identified as PC George, on Saturday questioned why the nun “didn’t complain the first time,” and claimed she “enjoyed” it most of the time.
“Who is the real victim: The nun or the bishop?” George asked.
“I am ashamed of such lawmakers who are giving these statements instead of helping women. The National Commission for Women has already taken up the matter and we will write to the Director General of Police demanding strict action against him,” said Rekha Sharma, the commission’s head, according to the Times of India.
Members of the nun’s convent have said they may initiate a legal case of defamation against the politician.
Meanwhile, opposition leaders are coming out in support of the nun making the allegations against Mulakkal.
“Police have not completed the probe even 76 days after registering the case. It is a serious issue,” said Ramesh Chennithala, the leader of the opposition in the state assembly.
“The investigation should be completed quickly, and the culprits should be given punishment as prescribed in the law,” he said. “Complete the probe in a time bound manner and convince the people of the facts about the case.”
Meanwhile, a former member of the Kerala High Court, B. Kemal Pasha, has accused the police and Church of being in an “unholy alliance” and said that it was “unheard of” for a suspect not to be taken into custody at this stage of the investigation.
The secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India told ucanews.com the bishops are “extremely sorry” they are being dragged into the situation, which he said was a matter for the civil authorities, not the Church.
“Now, we will have to wait for the police to complete the process of investigation,” said Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas.