Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

An Indian court has acquitted a Roman Catholic bishop of charges of raping a nun in her rural convent amid sexual harassment claims.

An Indian court has acquitted a Roman Catholic bishop of charges of raping a nun in her rural convent, a case that has become a major issue amid allegations by sexual harassment in the church.

Sessions Judge G Gopakumar said in a brief order Friday that the bishop is not guilty of charges that he repeatedly raped the nun between 2014 and 2016.

Bishop Franco Mulakkal was present in court in Kottayam, a southern Indian city. Supporters cheered and sang “Praise the Lord” as he left the court.

The detailed verdict will probably be available later Friday.

The prosecutor, who represents the nun, will appeal against verdict, lawyer Sandhya Raju said.

Virginia Saldanha, former executive secretary of the Commission on Women of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said she was shocked by the ruling.

“My first thought was that misogyny had won in the church. “The verdict reinforces the idea that a powerful man can not be brought to justice,” she said.

Police charged Mulakkal with rape, illegal detention and intimidation of the nun. She said she only went to police after repeatedly complaining to church authorities. Eventually, a group of fellow nuns launched unprecedented public protests to demand Mulakkal’s arrest in 2018. He was detained but released on bail after a few weeks.

The nuns also wrote to the Vatican asking to intervene in the matter. Their agitation made national news and divided the small Christian minority in Hindu majority India, where according to census figures they make up 2.3 per cent of the population.

Mulakkal was the official patron of the nun’s community, the Missionaries of Jesus, and exerted great influence on his budgets and work assignments.

Mulakkal denied the allegations, calling them “unfounded and fabricated” and said the accused nun was trying to pressure him to get a better job.

The nun in her complaint accused Mulakkal, who was then bishop of the Jalandhar diocese in the northern state of Punjab, of raping her several times during his visits to her monastery in Kuravilangad in the state of Kerala.

Kerala is considered the birthplace of Christianity in India, with the apostle Thomas presumably landing there in 52 CE.

Sister Anupama, who led the campaign in support of the nun, said she would continue the fight for her colleague.

“We did not get the expected justice from the judiciary,” the news agency Press Trust of India quoted her as saying.

B Raman Pillai, the bishop’s lawyer, told reporters that “the prosecution case was very weak and the investigation very weak.”

While the Catholic Church is embroiled in a series of sexual abuse scandals around the world, Mulakkal was his first Indian priest to be tried.

In February 2019, Pope Francis publicly acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops for the first time and promised to confront the problem.

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