Authorities are investigating Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar after a Kerala nun accused him of raping her in 2014 and sexually abusing her on multiple occasions over two years—but the bishop strenuously denies the claims and charges that the nun is accusing him to avoid disciplinary action.
Bishop Mulakkal, 54, heads a Roman Catholic diocese in the northern India state of Punjab. He oversees the alleged victim’s Missionaries of Jesus religious congregation.
The congregation is based in Jalandhar but has a convent in the Diocese of Palai, in Kerala State.
The nun has said the rape took place during the bishop’s May 2014 visit to the convent in Kerala. In a 72-page complaint to police, filed June 29, she alleged that the bishop sexually abused her over a dozen times over two years.
For his part, Bishop Mulakkal has claimed the allegations were made in retaliation against him because he has acted against the nun’s sexual misconduct, the bishop told UCA News. He said the nun was alleged to be having an affair with the husband of her cousin.
“She threatened to quit the order,” the bishop said, claiming that the nun sought a dispensation so that she could marry.
However, she “withdrew the application and continued to threaten me with sex allegations,” the bishop said, in a UCA News report published July 2.
Bishop Mlakkal claimed that when he took action against the nun, her brother threatened to kill him.
Father Peter Kavumkal, the vicar-general of the Jalandhar diocese, told UCA News that the nun’s congregation had planned to dismiss her July 2.
“It is all planned and timed to blackmail the bishop from taking punitive action against her,” the priest charged, claiming that the diocese went to police first.
Fr. Kavumkal filed a June 22 complaint in both Punjab and Kerala, charging blackmail and threatening the life of the bishop.
The case has prompted various media reports and rumors, with the Times of India reporting that a prime witness for the bishop’s complaint has told the investigating officials that the bishop intimidated him into writing the threatening letter. There are conflicting reports about whether the bishop will be interrogated soon, and some reports indicate the nun has submitted to authorities text messages from the bishop as evidence.
The International Business Times of India makes other claims against the bishop, reporting that other nuns have said the bishop encouraged them to file false charges against his accuser, that there are allegations of sexual abuse from several nuns, and that the bishop sent indecent messages to his accuser and others. However, the newspaper did not provide a source for those allegations.
A police official said the nun was standing by her accusations and would be subjected to medical tests to determine whether she had been sexually assaulted.
Pope Benedict XVI had named Bishop Mulakkal to become Auxiliary Bishop of Delhi in 2009. In June 2013, Pope Francis appointed him Bishop of Jullundur. Fewer than one percent of the diocese’s approximately 19.3 million people are Catholic, the website Catholic Hierarchy says.
The nun is part of the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church in union with Rome.
The case also could involve Cardinal George Alencherry, who is both head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly
A lay group in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, called the Movement for Transparency, has filed a police complaint charging that Cardinal George Alencherry received the nun’s complaint six months ago but failed to report it to the police.
That claim follows other accusations against the cardinal.
In November 2017 the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly’s canonical presbyteral council publicly accused Cardinal Alencherry of involvement of dubious land deals. The council’s representatives charged that the cardinal, two senior priests and a real estate agent sold land at undervalued prices, for a loss of $10 million. They accused the cardinal of bypassing the canonical body’s authority.
In June the Vatican bypassed the Syro-Malabar Church’s synod and suspended the administrative powers of the archdiocese’s two auxiliary bishops, all archdiocesan offices, and the archdiocesan council. A Vatican letter said Cardinal Alencherry "should absolutely not be involved" in any decisions, UCA News reports.
It tasked the new administrator with auditing the archdiocese through an independent agency and sending the results to the Vatican confidentially. The new administrator must also determine the responsibility of those “who have wounded church unity with unfounded allegations, lacking the spirit of obedience and ecclesial sense.”
Pope Francis appointed Bishop Jacob Manathodath of Palghat as the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator.
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