Bishop Franco acquitted: What transpired inside and outside the courtroom

Minutes after the Kerala court pronounced its verdict, Bishop Franco Mulakkal’s counsel distributed a press statement issued by the Bishop House in Jalandhar, announcing his acquittal and thanking his supporters.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal after the verdict
Bishop Franco Mulakkal after the verdict

Five minutes to 11 am on Friday, January 14, the buzz outside the courtroom at the Additional Sessions Court in Kerala’s Kottayam crescendoed. The judge presiding over the rape case against Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal was set to pronounce the verdict. Inside the courtroom, dressed in a white tunic and a pair of black trousers, Franco’s legs fidgeted while he moved his fingers along the string of beads of the rosary. He was flanked by his supporters. With media persons and police personnel lined up on either side of the courtroom, within two minutes past 11 am, the judge pronounced his verdict — Bishop Franco Mulakkal is not found guilty of the rape charges brought against him by a nun from a Kottayam convent.

Many reacted in disbelief. In fact, they enquired with each other if what they had heard was true. Yes, the Sessions Court has acquitted Bishop Franco. While it was a dramatic sigh of relief for the Defence, the survivor-nun’s legal team and the investigation team visibly seemed confounded. “Let’s wait for the judgment,” they reacted, eager to understand why the court acquitted Franco despite ample evidence against him. Meanwhile, people gathered outside the courtroom evidently got word of the verdict, as Franco and his supporters could be seen hugging each other.

As the bishop and his supporters rushed out of the courtroom, dramatic visuals unfolded in the corridors of the court within minutes of the verdict. Franco broke down, hugged and thanked his lawyer. His supporters erupted in cheer and adulation when he walked out of the courtroom. The bishop's counsel distributed a press statement issued by the Bishop House in Punjab’s Jalandhar, announcing his acquittal and thanking all his supporters for their prayers.

The press statement saying Franco Mulakkal has been acquitted

Heavy police security at the Kottayam Additional Sessions Court premises

As Franco was escorted to his car that was waiting near the court's entrance, media personnel jostled to get a word from the bishop. All he chose to say was, "Praise be to the lord."

Some of his supporters distributed sweets and spoke to the media about how they felt that “justice had prevailed” and their Bishop had walked out unscathed by the allegations against him.

But it was not just Franco’s supporters in the court premises. Extending solidarity to the survivor, a group of protesters were soon holding placards and protesting against the verdict. They demanded that convents be brought under the surveillance of CCTV cameras, that murders and suicides in convents be investigated, and asked for the abolishing of slavery of nuns.

Protest against the verdict acquitting Bishop Franco Mulakkal

In June 2018, a nun from the Missionaries of Jesus convent in Kuravilangad had filed a police complaint against Bishop Franco, alleging that he had raped her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. After intense protests, Franco was arrested months later, and the chargesheet was filed after a further seven-month delay. However, according to the prosecution, during the trial, Franco and his legal team questioned the survivor’s delay in filing the complaint, and why she could not clearly explain the details of the alleged crime.

Once the judgment copy is published, the Prosecution will discuss with the Kerala government and file an appeal challenging the verdict. The survivor’s friend and fellow nun, Sister Anupama, said that they will continue their fight for justice. 

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