MUMBAI, India – A bishop accused of raping a nun in India has vehemently denied he tried to buy her silence.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar – in the Indian state of Punjab – was accused in June of repeatedly sexually assaulting the sister belonging to the Punjab-based Missionaries of Jesus religious congregation. The alleged assaults took place on 13 different occasions between 2014-2016.
Police in the state of Kerala – where the nun is from and where the assaults are alleged to have taken place – are investigating the charges.
Mulakkal has consistently denied the charges, and said the nun is retaliating against him because he was investigating claims she had an affair with a married man.
On July 30, Kerala police filed charges against Father James Erthayil, saying he had tried to mediate a deal on behalf of the bishop for the nun to drop the charges.
Police said Erthayil telephoned the nun offering her land, a building and “safety” if she dropped the case against Mulakkal.
A recording alleging to be of the conversation in Malayalam was leaked to the press, although its authenticity could not be confirmed.
“We can buy some land, build a convent and shift you all there safely. This won’t happen tomorrow but everything has a time. We can think about it,” the male voice said, according to a translation provided by India Matters, a website.
“If we have to buy 10 acres of land and build a decent building for everyone, it’s not easy. So they will help, but their condition is that this case must be withdrawn,” he continued.
“If you all are adamant on your stand, this won’t happen. If you withdraw your complaint and go to one of your convents in Odisha, Andhra, threats may arise. But if you move independently and go under some other Bishop, there won’t be any threats. It will be good if you think about this and if you decide to do this positively, I will help you in any way possible. I can’t do everything but will help in whatever I can do. In the sense that we can buy some land, build a house, shift them. They will support. I suggested this because they have said they will support,” the voice said.
The recording also featured the nun refusing the offer, saying, “We must get justice. We don’t desire to lose any life or sell our dignity.”
Since the recording was released, Erthayil’s congregation – the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate – have asked the priest to step down as superior of their house in Kurianadu.
“Father James has been asked to step down. An enquiry has been initiated,” the order said in a statement, adding they knew nothing of the alleged mediation.
Mulakkal told Crux he has not authorized anyone to mediate on his behalf, or on behalf of his diocese. He called the latest reports “all lies.”
“Our stand is that truth should come out. We are not responsible for what an individual does in his/her personal capacity,” the bishop said.
Father Thomas Poochalil, the bishop’s secretary, said the reports that Mulakkal used a mediator “are absolutely baseless and we see it as tactics to divert the investigation into the case.”
“Since we want the truth to come out after a proper investigation and to punish the guilty, we do not support any move to divert attention. We have not appointed a mediator or plan to appoint one. Any news counter to this is to twist the truth and a sign of a wicked mind,” the priest said.
There is a second audio recording leaked by the nun in the rape case: A 4-minute recording was broadcast by an Indian television station last month, and in it Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the eastern rite Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, can be heard conversing with the 43-year-old nun.
The nun is a member of the Syro-Malabar Church, which is based in Kerala, a center of Christianity in India. Priests and nuns from the state can often be found serving in other parts of the country.
The sexual assaults allegedly occurred in a room in a convent set aside for Kerala-born priests of the Jalandhar Diocese visiting home.
In the recording, the cardinal can be heard saying, “If she was abused then it’s really bad” and “if she has been subjected to this, then it’s not correct.”
Alencherry also seems to tell the nun that he will deny that he was told anything about the matter if approached by the police and advised her to approach the Vatican ambassador to India and Bombay Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who is the president of the Catholic Bishop’s Council of India. (There is no evidence she approached either of them.)
After the latest audio tape was released, the family of the nun told NDTV that they had been “waiting for justice” from the Church.
“When the Church failed to offer any help, we were forced to go to the police,” a family representative said.
“We are not worried about the lives of our children. When someone becomes a nun or priest, they are willing to lay down everything for Christ. But there are many Judases in the Church, ready to betray Christ and people.”