A Catholic bishop in India accused of raping a nun repeatedly over the course of two years has written to the Vatican asking permission to be relieved of his duties as bishop while the case is investigated.
“Bishop Franco Mulakkal wrote a letter to Holy Father Pope Francis expressing his desire to step aside temporarily and requested to be relieved from the administration of the Diocese,” the Diocese of Jullundur, which Mulakkal leads, said in a statement released over the weekend and reported by Reuters.
The request came days before Sept. 19, when Mulakkal is set to be questioned by police in the southern state of Kerala, and after protests calling for his arrest have escalated.
Seven nuns gathered in a public square in Kochi earlier this month to protest how both police and the Church have responded to one nun’s accusation that Bishop Mulakkal raped her in 2014 and sexually abused her multiple times over two years.
A lay group in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, called the Movement for Transparency, has filed a police complaint charging that Cardinal George Alencherry, who heads the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, received the nun’s complaint six months ago but failed to report it to the police.
“The Church has not given us justice. Neither have the police or government. So, we will fight. We feel that it was the Church which forced us onto the streets,” Sister Anupama of the Missionaries of Jesus, one of the Kochi protesters, told the Times of India Sept. 8.
A Kerala nun has said that Mulakkal raped her during his May 2014 visit to her convent in Kuravilangad, in Kerala state. In a 72-page complaint to police, filed June 29, she alleged that the bishop sexually abused her more than a dozen times over two years.
Mulakkal has denied the accusations, claiming that they were made in retaliation against him because he has acted against the nun’s sexual misconduct, according to UCA News. He said the nun was alleged to be having an affair with her cousin’s husband.
Three more women have accused the bishop in recent days of sexual misconduct against them, but the congregation’s superior general maintains that the bishop is innocent.
According to Reuters, the nun who first filed a complaint against Mulakkal has also filed a complaint with the Vatican against the bishop last week.
UCA News also reported that Mulakkal filed an anticipatory bail plea with the Kerala High Court Sept. 18, which was accepted.
The Vatican has not yet commented on the case, nor has it announced whether Mulakkal’s request has been accepted.
Before leaving for his meeting with police in Kerala, Mulakkal handed over the administrative duties of his local Church to Monsignor Mathew Kokkandam, The News Minute reported.