First Arrest Of Senior Church Official In India
Almost three months after he was formally accused of rape by a nun, Bishop Franco Mulakkal was finally arrested here late on Friday. It is the first arrest of such a high-ranking Church official in India, made possible by a courageous nun daring to speak up, and also by the unprecedented support from other nuns, priests and laypeople involved with the ongoing Save Our Sisters campaign.
The bishop was arrested after three days of intense questioning by police that reportedly exposed his alibis and carefully constructed counter-argument about the complainant’s alleged motives. “We have concluded that the complaints against the bishop are reasonably true. The interrogation is over. It has been found that the bishop has committed the offence,” Kottayam SP Hari Sankar, who is overseeing the investigation, said.
Bishop Mulakkal, who was stripped of his powers by Pope Francis on Thursday but remains titular head of Jalandhar diocese, will be lodged at Kottayam police club for the night, and on Saturday morning will be taken to Pala magistrate court where police will seek his custody for three days. The remand report is expected to focus on existing cases that involves attempt to influence witnesses, which the prosecution will cite, especially when the bishop’s anticipatory bail plea comes up before Kerala high court on September 25.
Sources said that the bishop is likely to face charges under IPC sections 342 (wrongful confinement), 376 (2k) (rape on a woman incapable of giving consent), 376 (2n) (cause grievous bodily harm during rape), 377 (unnatural offence) and 506
(1) (criminal intimidation).
“Our protest forced government to take action against the bishop. The survivor nun had approached various authorities and did not get justice. This forced us to take to the streets and demand justice for her,” said Sister Anupama, one of the nuns at the forefront of the twoweek-long protests at Vanchi Square in Kochi.
‘Asked hundreds of questions & prima facie we felt he committed the crime’
No survivor should be forced to seek justice in this manner. We’ve been forced to do so due to the laxity by those meant to protect us and the government. If a nun speaks of abuse at the hands of priests before higher officials, they will try to hush up the matter and silence her. It should not happen again,” the survivor’s sister said. There are as many as 81 witnesses and 34 documents already in connection with the case.
“It is an unprecedented preliminary investigation where 24 hours of interrogation happened over three days. Hundreds of questions were asked and we were able to get clarity on many contradictions. Prima facie we felt he committed the crime,” Kochi Range IG Vijay Sakhare said.
The marathon interrogation was led by K Subhash, DSP, Vaikom, and Kottayam SP Hari Sankar. The DSP first interrogated the bishop for over nine hours in Jalandhar on August 13. The case against the bishop was registered after the nun met the Kerala police chief with a complaint that the bishop had raped her multiple times at Kuravilangad Mission Home between May 2014 and September 2016.
The interrogation resumed on Friday at the special interrogation centre at Tripunithura around 10.45 am. On Thursday night, three police teams were sent out to various undisclosed places to verify details revealed by the bishop during the course of the investigation.
Official confirmation of the arrest came at around 7.45 pm when the Kottayam SP announced it. “The Kerala police must be given its due. Women’s Commission extends all support to the nuns who continue the protest for justice,” Kerala Women’s Commission chairperson M C Josephine told TOI.