NEW DELHI – A Catholic bishop accused of repeatedly raping a nun in southern India over a two-year period was acquitted on Friday, bringing to an end what appeared to be the first such case in the country.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal, tried since 2020, has repeatedly said that he was innocent. “Glory to the Lord”, he declared after the verdict in the city of Kottayam, in the state of Kerala.
The judge overseeing the trial, G. Gopakumar, said prosecutors had failed to prove their case, according to press reports. Kerala investigators said the decision would be appealed to a higher court.
The case, considered the first in India in which a bishop has been accused of raping a nun, has highlighted deep divisions within the country’s Catholic Church. The church has been slow to respond to the nun’s accusations against Bishop Mulakkal, and she only did so after five of her sisters protested publicly in support of her.
Father Augustin Vattoly, who helped organize a group involved in the protests in Kerala, said the nuns had not given up.
“The verdict is a big, big shock for us,” said Father Vattoly. “But we will continue the fight against the notorious system of the church, which throws its weight behind the perpetrators of injustice like Franco Mulakkal.”
The nun, who belongs to the religious order of the Missionaries of Jesus, first brought her accusations to ecclesiastical authorities in January 2017. She approached nearly a dozen Church officials, including bishops, a cardinal and representatives of the Vatican.
In official police complaints, the nun’s family said the assaults took place at her convent, St. Francis Mission Home in Kerala, home to many of India’s 20 million Catholics.
Just before Bishop Mulakkal was arrested and briefly detained in September 2018, the church removed him from his administrative duties in the northern Indian town of Jalandhar, where he served. Formal charges were brought against him in April 2019, weeks after Pope Francis admitted that sexual abuse of nuns by priests was a persistent problem within the church.
The bishop was accused of raping the nun nine times between 2014 and 2016, during his visits to Kerala. He was also charged under the laws with intimidation, forcible confinement and unnatural sex.