India bishop accused of rape says 'conscience is clear' as police continue probe

India bishop accused of rape says ‘conscience is clear’ as police continue probe

India bishop accused of rape says ‘conscience is clear’ as police continue probe

Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar. (Credit: File photo.)

A bishop accused of raping a nun in India says his “conscience is clear,” as the authorities investigate the allegations.

MUMBAI, India – A bishop accused of raping a nun in India says his “conscience is clear,” as the authorities investigate the allegations.

Speaking to the Times of India on Saturday, Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar said he is being targeted by his accuser because he began an investigation into an alleged affair the nun had with the husband of her own cousin.

The nun was posted at the Mission of Jesus Sisters (MSJ) house in Jalandhar in 2016 when her cousin’s family made the complaint, and the superior of the order consulted with Mulakkal about the case.

“I told her to follow procedure,” the bishop told the newspaper. “Had I not asked her to investigate the complaint, it would have amounted to a cover-up and the complainant could have put us in the dock.”

[The superior of the MSJ order confirmed the story with the Times of India.]

The nun went to the police on June 29 with her accusations and submitted a 72-page statement. According to police reports, the nun produced documentation and other evidence for her case. Police authorities said she provided details of 13 instances when she was allegedly abused by the accused from 2014-2016.

Jalandhar is in India’s northwestern Punjab state, although many of the clergy and religious are from Kerala, which is also the home of the alleged victim.

Mulakkal admits to being in the convent in Kuravilangad in Kerala when the alleged assaults took place, but insists he was in a room especially set aside for visiting clergy.

“My predecessors, Symphorian Keeprath and Anil Couto [currently Archbishop of Delhi], also stayed in the same room whenever they visited Kerala. In fact, the property was purchased by the Diocese of Jalandhar to provide a place for priests from Kerala going back home,” the bishop told the Times of India. “There are entries in the logbook that I stayed there 13 times and the number has been cited in her complaint.”

Mulakkal also said his accuser often voluntarily accompanied him after she alleges he raped her.

“Would a victim go around with her rapist or go to the latter’s home? She visited my house when a jubilee function was held in Kerala in 2015 and then also when my mother passed away in November 2015,” the bishop said.

“If she was a victim, she could have asked for a transfer from a place where she was suffering but she did not ask for one ever. I challenge her to bring out any evidence that she sought transfer out of the convent to some other place. Rather, it was I who was transferring her, which she was resisting,” Mulakkal said.

Meanwhile, the Times of India also received a copy of the letter the nun sent to Cardinal George Alencherry on July 11, 2017, although the cardinal earlier this year denied having seen it.

Alencherry is the head of the Syro-Malabar Church, an Eastern-rite Catholic jurisdiction headquartered in Kerala. Mulakkal’s alleged victim is a member of the Church.

In the letter, the nun made no rape accusation but made mention of a “moral and spiritual dilemma” caused by the bishop that was so severe 15 of the sisters had left the order in just three years.

“The bishop used malicious words while talking to sisters and his mobile messages to sisters contained vulgar words with sexual tones. I have some mobile messages that can be used as evidence,” she wrote in her letter. “Many of his expressions cannot be written down due to their abusive nature and it is not suitable for a bishop to use such words. It is reasonable for us to seek assistance from civil authorities. Being a religious congregation, we thought that it is not good to give pain to our Mother Church.”

In the letter, the nun admits she thought of leaving the congregation rather than deal with Mulakkal anymore, and that the bishop phoned her and sent her messages with malicious intent.

“I shared the matter with fathers and sisters (of the congregation) and they advised me to approach higher authorities of the Church. I may not be able to write about everything in detail but I want to meet the major archbishop,” the letter said.

The letter stated that Pala Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt advised the nun to go to the cardinal, which Kallarangatt confirmed to the police happened.

Although the bishop said he could not recall the date, he told authorities the nun told him the “atmosphere in the convent was not pleasant and that she was under stress.”

Kottayam District Police Chief Hari Sankar told the Press Trust of India he expects to travel to Jalandhar this week.

He said the nun’s testimony was credible, but the police “will act only after they are fully convinced.”

When the accusation was made public, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of the Archdiocese of Bombay – and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India – said justice must take its course.

“An internal investigation will be initiated by the competent authorities and due process according to the norms of Canon law,” he told Crux.

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