The three-years legal fight by a nun had ended up on Friday by giving a big shock to her after a Kerala court has completely acquitted a bishop, whom she accused of raping her over a dozen times. 57-year-old Franco Mulakkal, the ousted bishop of the Jalandhar diocese, has become the first bishop in India to face the charges of rape and sexual harassment. On Friday - January 14, Kottayam additional sessions court had acquitted Mulakkal from all the charges, four days after concluding the trial, that took stunning turns and twists.
The verdict of freeing him from all the charges had dismayed the victim and the prosecution, which has affirmed that it will go for an appeal against the acquittal. The victim fought the case in every way possible amid receiving threats and intimidations after filing a case against Mulakkal and besides, knocking on the doors of the church, she had approached the Vatican, and the legal grounds by alleging that she was raped by Mulakkal 13 times from 2014 to 2016 at her congregation's mission house in Kottayam. She filed a case against the bishop in June 2018 and now, the case has been vanished by the sessions court. Dubbed as a high-profile case, let's take a look at the timelines of the events,
- June 2017- After being sexually harassed by the bishop for two years, the nun had written to the church in June 2017 and said that she was raped by Mulakkal and that he had been intimidating her, her colleagues, and her family members. However, no action was taken to her complaint.
- June 27, 2018 - The victim had filed a complaint before the Kottayam Police Chief. Based on her complaint, an FIR was registered at the Kuravilangad police station. An FIR was filed against him under sections 342- punishment for wrongful confinement, 376 - rigorous imprisonment for not less than 10 years, 376- intercourse by the superintendent of remand home, 377- unnatural offences, and 506 (ii) - criminal intimidation.
- July 5, 2018 - The nun's statement was recorded on camera.
- July 7, 2018 - National Women's Commission (NCW) has urged the police to fasten the probe.
- July 25, 2018- One of the nun's relatives in Kochi had informed the police about being offered a huge bribe to take back the complaint.
- The victim and fellow nuns had held protests against the Kerala government and police for not apprehending Franco Mulakkal despite the fact that he was charged under some serious sections.
- August 7, 2018 - Kerala High Court has sought the government's response to a plea that was filed to arrest Mulakkal.
- August 8, 2018 - Special Investigative Team (SIT) had reached Jalandhar, Punjab, to investigate Mulakkal.
- September 8, 2018 - Joint Christian Council launches hunger strike in Kochi demanding arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal.
- September 11, 2018 - The victim wrote to the Vatican ambassador to India seeking intervention to ensure justice. On the same day, Mulakkal had slammed the victim and said that the people who were against the church were behind her and her protesters. He further assured the police of giving cooperation in the case.
- September 12, 2018 - Missionaries of Jesus had announced a probe against the protesting nuns who demanded the arrest of Mulakkal.
- September 20, 2018 - Pope Francis has removed Franco Mulakkal from his pastoral duties.
- September 21, 2018- After three days of investigation, the bishop was arrested at the Tripunithura Crime Branch Police station.
- September 24, 2018 - The bishop had filed his bail plea. However, it was rejected.
- He then moved his petition to the Kerala High Court.
- October 15, 2018 - Mulakkal was awarded bail with the directions to appear before the investigating officer once in two weeks and not to leave the country.
- April 9, 2019 - A 2000-page charge sheet was submitted before a court.
- January 20, 2020 - Franco has filed a petition for discharging him without a trial and claimed that he has been falsely implicated by the nun for having initiated action against her on the allegations by her cousin sister.
- March 16, 2020 - Mulakkal's discharge petition was dismissed by Additional Sessions Judge.
- July 7, 2020 - Kerala High Court has rejected the appeal moved by Mulakkal to challenge the order from the Additional Sessions Judge to discharge the case.
- July 13, 2020 - Additional District and Sessions Court has cancelled Mulakkal's bail and had issued an arrest warrant as he failed to appear before the court.
- He had then moved his discharge plea to the Supreme Court, which had eventually got rejected.
- August 7, 2020 - Mulakkal was granted bail for the second time by the Kottayam Additional District and Sessions Court.
- September 16, 2020 - Trial had commenced in Additional District and Sessions Court in Kottayam, Kerala.
- November 6, 2020 - The apex court has rejected Mulakkal's plea seeking review of its previous order dismissing his discharge petition.
- January 10, 2022- The trial has concluded and the case was one step behind the verdict.
- January 14, 2022- The Kottayam court has dictated the verdict in which it has completely acquitted Franco Mulakkal from all the charges.
The court had acquitted him as he wasn't found guilty. After the court read the verdict that favoured him, Mulakkal had broken down in tears and embraced his lawyers in the courtroom. Before leaving the court premises with a clean shit, the bishop said "Praise the Lord". Kottayam Additional Sessions Judge G Gopakumar has said, "The prosecution failed to prove all the charges against the accused."
Speaking to BBC Hindi, advocate Raman Pillai, who led the defence team for Mulakkal, said, "It is a hotly challenged case. It is bound to be taken to the high court. That's alright." He further said, "The court has said that he (Mulakkal) was not guilty. Clearly, the evidence that was provided by the prosecution witnesses was discarded. This means the charge was false. There was no rape at all."
Mulakkal had been denying the rape allegations and he claimed that the story was fabricated and in retaliation for taking action against the nun based on a complaint raised by a woman. On the other hand, the prosecution has expressed its shock over the verdict of a complete acquittal. Speaking to a news agency, investigating officer Harishankar said, "This is an extremely unfortunate verdict, it is shocking for us. We had expected a conviction fully. We will appeal and we had a lot of corroborative evidence. All the witnesses in the case were ordinary people."