Two-and-a-half months since a nun from the Missionaries of Jesus made a police complaint against the congregation’s patron bishop, the Jalandhar-based Franco Mulakkal, of raping her and subjecting her to unnatural sex on multiple occasions over two years since May 2014, the Kerala High Court on Monday asked the police to submit a report on action taken on the complaint.
Kottayam SP Hari Sankar, who is overseeing the probe, meanwhile, said there are some discrepancies in Mulakkal’s statements to the police. “We are cross-checking such statements. The next course of action – whether the bishop should be questioned again – will be taken after the next review meeting, scheduled later this week,’’ he said.
In Kochi, the HC division bench of Chief Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice A K Jayansankaran Nambiar sought to know the steps taken by the government to ensure security of the victim and fellow nuns supporting her, according to PTI. The bench wanted to know whether Mulakkal was questioned by the police team in Jalandhar when it went there, and directed the police to inform it of steps taken after that. The court was hearing a plea filed by George Joseph K of Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement, seeking a court-monitored probe. It posted the matter to Thursday for further hearing, PTI reported.
The police had questioned Mulakkal on August 13 and 14.
According to the complainant, she had been the superior of the convent and mission house (locality of convent withheld to protect victim’s identity) from 2013 to 2016.
In her complaint to Kottayam police on June 28 this year, the victim said she was first subjected to unnatural sex on the night of 5 May, 2014, in the mission house. Thereafter, she was sexually abused on 12 more occasions – until September 23, 2016, when the bishop left the mission house.
A case was registered under different IPC Sections, including rape and unnatural sex.
In an official release, Missionaries of Jesus on Monday called the charges baseless and said the congregation will not support nuns who have raised a “false charge” against the bishop. Stating that the complainant, as nun, had invited Mulakkal for family functions during the period of alleged rape, congregation’s mother general, Rejina M J, asked how could she have invited the bishop for a function at her home if he had raped her.
This comes two days after five nuns of the same convent as the victim protested in Kochi, demanding Mulakkal’s arrest. And even as another protest by the Joint Christian Council rages on, political parties and civic society organisations have begun questioning the delay in the investigations. Leader of Opposition in state Assembly Ramesh Chennithala on Monday said there are charges that the probe is proceeding very slowly. “The police have not completed the probe even 76 days after registering the case. It is a serious issue…. Complete the probe in a time-bound manner and convince people of the facts,” he told the media in Kochi, PTI reported.
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BJP and Sangh Parivar outfits in Kerala also expressed solidarity with the protesting nuns and church organisations.
From the outset, the police resorted to a line of collecting maximum evidence to substantiate the crime before proceeding to question Mulakkal.
As the first step, the nun was subjected to medical examination. She gave a statement before the magistrate under CrPC Section 164, reiterating the charges. The police then recorded statements of the complainant and seven other inmates of the convent.
Examination of visitors’ register at the convent showed Mulakkal had stayed on several occasions during the two-year period when the series of alleged sexual abuse took place.
Police recorded statements of the complainant’s colleagues but they did not give any statement about prior knowledge of the sexual abuse. SP Hari Sankar said there is no scientific evidence to substantiate the rape charges, and the two-year delay after the last incident of sexual abuse is a major impediment.
The bishop’s spokesman, Fr Peter Kavumpuram, said the diocese and the bishop are fully cooperating with the probe. “We haven’t thought about moving any anticipatory bail. We have confidence in police probe. We are not running away.”