Over seven months after the chargesheet was filed in the rape case against Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal, the trial is set to begin on Saturday. The Additional District Sessions Court of Kottayam will hear the case. According to a source in Jalandhar, Franco has left for the trial in Kerala along with 20 other priests.
Charges against the rape accused Bishop will be framed after the hearing, and after examining the witnesses. Additional District Sessions Judge Gopakumar will preside over the proceedings in the court on Saturday.
The Bishop of Jalandhar diocese has been accused of raping a nun of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation in Kerala multiple times between 2014 and 2016. It was only seven months after his arrest on September 28, 2018, that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Kerala police filed the chargesheet on April 9. And this after the fellow nuns of the survivor submitted a petition.
The chargesheet, which is over 2,000 pages long, contains the statements and testimonies of 84 witnesses, including three bishops, 11 priests and 24 nuns.
The chargesheet was initially submitted in the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court in Pala, Kottayam district. Although Franco appeared in court for the hearing on May 9, his bail was extended and the case was posted for hearing at a later date. Even then, Franco attempted a show of strength when he arrived at the court, accompanied by at least 10 priests and a group of women.
In July, Sister Anupama, one of the five nuns who fought for Franco’s arrest, had raised concerns over the evidence tampering. The Judicial First Class Magistrate was perusing the DVD copies of the cyber-forensic reports, submitted by the Forensic Science Laboratory in the court as well as to the investigating officials. The magistrate was considering the copies to hand over a copy to the counsel of the Bishop. However, it was found that, in the DVD copies sent to the investigating officials, two to three files, which contained Franco’s phone and laptop records, were missing.
The case was then shifted to the Principal Sessions Court in Kottayam and later to the Additional District Sessions court, considering the gravity and nature of the case.
The trial was initially set to commence on November 11, but due to unavailability of the judge, the hearing was shifted to November 30. The delay by 20 days put the survivor and the five nuns in distress.
Well aware of the long legal battle ahead of them and considering the isolation by the Church congregation, the nuns enrolled in correspondence courses and have received counselling sessions to deal with the pressures of the trial.
“We will wait for what the court has to say,” Sister Anupama told TNM, hopeful of a favourable judgment at the end of the trial.