MUMBAI, India – Over 500 people held a demonstration demanding the cancellation of bail for Indian Bishop Frank Mulakkal, who has been accused of raping a nun on multiple occasions.
The Save Our Sisters (SoS) Action Council held the rally on Wednesday in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala.
Mulakkal was arrested on Sept. 21 after a months-long investigation into the accusations of a nun claiming he raped her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. The nun is a member of the Punjab-based Missionaries of Jesus congregation, but said the attacks happened in Kuravilangad, the location of one of the order’s convents in Kerala.
Mulakkal vehemently denies the charges, and claims the nun is retaliating because he initiated an investigation against her for an affair she allegedly had with a married man.
The bishop was released on bail on Oct. 15, despite the objections of the police and the family of the nun making the accusations.
The conditions of his bail included asking the bishop not to enter Kerala and to surrender his passport. He has also been asked to present himself before the police in the state of Punjab – the location of his diocese of Jalandhar – every two weeks. He also must appear before the investigating officers when requested by them.
The Nov. 14 demonstration in the Kerala capital not only demanded he be returned to custody, but also called on the authorities to investigate further the death of Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, 67, who was found dead inside his room in Jalandhar Oct. 22.
Medical staff at Sacred Heart Hospital in Jalandhar said Kattuthara was a chronic patient receiving treatment for hypertension and diabetes.
The priest’s brother said family members believe the priest was killed for his strong stand against the bishop, saying that “he was under tremendous pressure” to retract his statements against the bishop.
“As long as Franco is out on bail, he can use his power to destroy evidence and influence witnesses. The lives of witnesses and sisters who publicly spoke against him are also at a risk,” said former Kerala chief minister and communist leader V.S. Achuthanandan, according to ucanews.com.
Achuthanandan organized the Nov. 14 protest.
Father Augustine Vattoli, a priest of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam, is the coordinator of the Save our Sisters Action Council.
“The lives of those challenging the bishop are in danger as his supporters can do anything. We need to protect them before any harm is done,” he told ucanews.com.
Vattoli told the news organization that five nuns who supported the accuser in earlier protests against Mulakkal are in danger as long as he is out on bail.
One of the nuns told The New Indian Express this is why they didn’t join the latest protests.
“We do not expect to see Franco Mulakkal behind bars again. His power and position will protect him. However, we have hope in the investigation and believe justice will be delivered,” said Sister Anupama, who led protests in Kerala against Mulakkal in September.
“Being part of the Church, we will face consequences if we participate in the march. We hope the government will take steps towards the actions council’s demands,” she said.
However, nearly 100 members Kattuthara’s family were at the Wednesday demonstration, demanding justice for the dead priest.
“Our family member died in mysterious circumstances and we want to know the truth of it,” Sebastian Anthony told ucanews.com.
Anthony said that even if the priest was not murdered, his death was “surely because of the pressure from Mulakkal.”
“Father Kattuthara had several times told us that if the bishop got bail, he would be killed,” he said.
Last month, Cardinal Oswald Gracias – the president of India’s bishops’ conference – issued a statement saying he and Cardinal George Alencherry and Cardinal Basilios Cleemis met with three high-ranking Vatican officials about the Mulakkal case.
“We were assured that the Holy See is closely following developments and is awaiting the results of the police investigation. We reiterated our confidence in the judicial system of India, and trust that the full truth will emerge and justice will be done for all,” Gracias said.
On Sept. 20, Pope Francis temporarily relieved Mulakkal of his pastoral duties for the Diocese of Jalandhar, and appointed the retired auxiliary of Mumbai, Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias, apostolic administrator of the diocese.