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Indian bishop formally charged with rape

Indian Christian nuns and Muslim supporters protest as they demand the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal (Getty Images)

Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jullundur, India has been charged with raping a nun nine times over a two-year period and faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, local authorities announced today.

The charge sheet against Mulakkal included statements from more than 80 witnesses including a cardinal, three bishops, 11 priests and 25 nuns, according to Indian Catholic group Save our Sisters.

Mulakkal has also been charged under laws against intimidation, illegal confinement and unnatural intercourse, the New York Times reports, and he faces at least 10 years in prison if found guilty.

In June 2018, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus religious congregation accused Mulukkal of sexually assaulting her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. In a 72-page complaint to police, filed June 29, the nun alleged that the bishop sexually abused her more than a dozen times over two years.

Police in the Indian state of Kerala had announced yesterday that they had gathered enough evidence to formally charge Mulakkal and that they would file a charging document in criminal court this week.

The bishop maintains his innocence. He was arrested on September 21, 2018 amid protests calling for a police investigation of the allegation. He was subsequently released on bail.

A lay group in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, called the Movement for Transparency, filed a police complaint at the time charging that Cardinal George Alencherry, who heads the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, received the nun’s complaint six months previously but failed to report it to the police.

Mulakkal, 55, was temporarily removed from the administration of his diocese shortly before he was arrested. The bishop claims that the nun accused him of rape as retaliation, because he had ordered an investigation into a claim that she was having an affair with a relative.

On October 22, 2018, Fr. Kuriakose Kattuthara, a key police witness in the case, was found dead in his room. The priest’s family alleged foul play.

Mulakkal was ordered by police investigators last year to turn over to them a laptop believed to contain evidence in the case, but Indian officials have not yet reported whether the bishop turned over the computer as ordered.

The New York Times reports that earlier this year, police in Kerala said they were looking into reports that Church leaders in India had abused other nuns, and that four priests in Kerala had blackmailed women during confession to force them into sex.