NEW DELHI: An Indian court on Friday acquitted a Roman Catholic bishop of charges of raping a nun in her rural convent, a case that became a major issue amid allegations of sexual assault in the church.
Sessions Judge G. Gopakumar, in a brief order, said that the bishop was not guilty of the allegations that he repeatedly raped the nun between 2014 and 2016.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal was present at the court in the south Indian city of Kottayam. Supporters cheered and chanted “Praise the Lord” as he left the court.
A detailed decision is likely to be available later on Friday.
Advocate Sandhya Raju said the prosecution would appeal against the verdict on behalf of the nun.
Virginia Saldanha, former executive secretary of the Commission for Women of the Indian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said she was shocked by the decision. “My first thought was that misogyny has prevailed in the Church. The verdict reinforces the idea that a powerful man cannot be brought to justice,” she said.
Police have accused Mulakkal of rape, illegal confinement and intimidation of the nun. She said that she went to the police only after repeatedly complaining to the church authorities. Eventually, a group of fellow nuns launched unprecedented public protests in 2018 demanding Mulakkal’s arrest. He was taken into custody but released on bail after a few weeks.
Mulakkal was the official patron of the Missionaries of Jesus, a community of nuns, and exercised immense influence over their budget and job work.
Mulakkal denied the allegations, calling them “baseless and fabricated”, and said the nun who made the allegations tried to pressure her to get a better job.
The nun has alleged in her complaint that Mulakkal, who was then bishop of Jalandhar diocese in the northern state of Punjab, raped her several times during her visit to his convent at Kuravilangad in Kerala state.
Sister Anupama, who led the campaign in support of the nun, said she would continue to fight for her ally.
“We did not get the justice we expected from the judiciary,” the Press Trust of India news agency quoted him as saying.
Bishop’s lawyer B. Raman Pillai told reporters that “the prosecution case was very weak and the investigation was very poor”.
In February 2019, Pope Francis for the first time publicly acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops and vowed to combat the problem.
An Indian Catholic bishop is being prosecuted for non-massive child sex abuse in the French Catholic Church.