NEW DELHI – A Catholic bishop accused of repeatedly raping a nun in southern India over a two-year period has been acquitted on Friday, marking a temporary end to what appeared to be the first case of its kind in the country .
The bishop, Franco Mulakkal, on trial since 2020, had consistently said he was innocent. “Praise the Lord,” he said after the verdict in Kottayam city in Kerala state.
The judge overseeing the trial, G. Gopakumar, said the prosecutors had failed to prove their case, according to news reports. Kerala detectives said the ruling would be appealed to a higher court.
The case, believed to be the first in India in which a bishop was accused of raping a nun, revealed deep divisions within the Catholic Church in the country. The church has been slow to respond to the nun’s accusations against Bishop Mulakkal, only after five of her fellow nuns protested openly in support of her.
Father Augustine Vattoly, who helped organize a group those involved in the Kerala protests said the nuns had not given up.
“The verdict is a great shock to us,” Father Vattoly said. “But we will continue to fight against the infamous system of the Church, which throws its weight on wrongdoers like Franco Mulakkal.”
The nun, who belongs to the religious order Missionaries of Jesus, first took her accusations to church authorities in January 2017. She approached nearly a dozen church officials, including bishops, a cardinal and representatives from the Vatican.
In official police complaints, the nun’s family said the attacks took place at her monastery, the 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 relieved him of his administrative duties in the northern Indian city of Jalandhar, where he had served. Formal charges were brought against him in April 2019, weeks after Pope Francis admitted that the sexual abuse of nuns by priests was an ongoing problem within the church.
The bishop was accused of raping the nun nine times between 2014 and 2016, during visits to Kerala. He was also charged under laws against harassment, illegal detention and unnatural intercourse.