MUMBAI, India – Bishop Franco Mulakkal has filed a discharge petition before a lower court in Kottayam in the criminal case against him, after he was accused of raping a nun on multiple occasions.

The bishop was arrested on Sept. 21, 2018, in the Indian state of Kerala after a months-long investigation into the accusations of a nun claiming he raped her 13 times between 2014 and 2016.

The original 1,400-page charge sheet filed by the Kerala police names 83 witnesses, including the head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Cardinal George Alencherry, three bishops, 11 priests and several nuns.

He was released on bail on Oct. 15, 2018.

Mulakkal is Bishop of Jalandhar, located in Punjab state, but is originally from the state of Kerala.

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.

The bishop 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.

(On Sept. 20, 2018, 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.)

In his Jan 25. plea, Mulakkal claimed that prima facie there was no case, and the charges against him were baseless.

The trail court gave the prosecution until Feb. 4 to file its objection to the plea filed by the bishop.

Critics say the move is a ploy to delay the start of his trial, after a judge refused the bishop’s request for more time on Jan. 6.

Sister Lucy Kalappura of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, a long-time advocate for the nun making the accusations against Mulakkal, said the bishop’s latest legal move is “very cruel.”

“Franco, the culprit, is trying to save himself by denying the accusations against him,” she told Crux, noting the evidence contained in the charge sheet.

The nun said it was “very cruel” that he was “again torturing the victim and the witnesses.”

She said the courts should “hurry up to give justice to the victim, not to the criminal.”

If convicted, Mulakkal could face life in prison; the minimum sentence he could receive is 10 years.

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