In a case that has caught the national spotlight, a Kerala court has awarded a complete acquittal for Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was facing charges of rape and illegal confinement. The three-year-old case has taken a crucial direction on Friday - January 14 after the judicial body has acquitted the ousted bishop from all the charges, which had shocked the prosecution and it has affirmed that it will go for an appeal against the court's verdict.
57-year-old Franco Mulakkal, a native of Thrissur in Kerala, was the Jalandhar diocese bishop and a rape case was filed against him in 2018 by a nun from Kerala. In her complaint that was filed in June 2018, the nun has alleged that Mulakkal has raped her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. She further said that she had approached the Church with her complaint about the rape but no action was initiated, which prompted her to knock on the legal doors.
Though the case was filed against Mulakkal, the police didn't immediately arrest the bishop and after the protests from the victim and fellow nuns, the police had apprehended Mulakkal and seven months after the complaint was lodged, an FIR was registered against him. Mulakkal was taken under judicial custody for 25 days following his arrest and the trial had begun in the court where the accused and the victim had firmly stood by their claims.
The victim had allegedly faced the threats since she filed a case and despite the intimidation, she stood by her charges and fought against Mulakkal. Franco Mulakkal was the bishop of Jalandhar and following the charges of rape, he was stripped off from all his duties. In her complaint, the nun has alleged that Mulakkal had raped her 13 times at her Congregation's mission house in the Kottayam district and with the case, Mulakkal had become the first bishop in India to face the charges of rape and sexual harassment and had he been found guilty, he would have become the first bishop convicted of rape.
The magnitude of the case had made it significant and the latest verdict of acquitting the bishop had become a blow to the prosecution as the acquittal was based on the failures of proving the charges. It must be noted that in September 2018, the victim had written a letter to Giambattista Diquattro, Vatican's diplomatic mission, alleging that the bishop had been using the wealth of the diocese and his power to divert police attention against him. She went on to allege that the bishop had arranged people to attack her and her companions who supported her.
The trial in the court had begun in 2020, and even though Mulakkal had approached the High Court and the Supreme Court with a plea to dismiss the charges against him, his petitions were rejected as the courts had refused to entertain the plea. After nearly two years of hearing, the additional sessions court in Kottayam prepared to deliver the verdict in the case. The court resumed its proceedings on Friday to dictate the verdict.
Heavy security was deployed outside the court premises, ahead of the verdict. The court had eventually acquitted Franco Mulakkal from all the charges after he wasn't proven guilty. After the court read the verdict that favoured him, he 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."