THRISSUR, India — A trial court in southern Kerala state ordered Bishop Franco Mulakkal to appear for trial March 24 on charges of repeatedly raping a nun.

The charges led to him stepping down as bishop of Jalandhar in 2018.

A court in Kottayam district of Kerala rejected the bishop’s claim that there was no prima facie evidence to frame charges against him and asked him to appear for the trial, set to begin March 24. The bishop told Catholic News Service that he would appeal to the Kerala High Court.

The rape case against the bishop was registered in June 2018 in Kottayam district in Kerala. The nun, who claimed she was raped 13 times by the bishop over two years, said the rapes took place in the convent guest house of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation near Kottayam.

Following questioning, Mulakkal was arrested in September 2018 and was released on bail within a month. After months of court hearings on the evidence and as the trial was to begin, in January he submitted a special discharge petition before the trial court. The bishop claimed the rape allegation was “concocted” in revenge for his disciplinary action against the nun, a former superior general of the congregation under his charge.

Sister Anupama, a member of the congregation, told Catholic News Service “the court has given a clear message that there is substance in the allegation.”

“We are happy that the court has lent credibility to what we have been saying. Since the court has decided to go ahead with the trial, the church leadership should ask the bishop to resign or sack him,” she said.

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