Bishop Franco Mulakkal, accused in the Kerala nun rape case, has tested postive for coronavirus. The Bishop’s bail in the case was cancelled on Monday and he underwent a COVID-19 test before he could be taken into custody.
Officials at the Civil Hospital in Jalandhar where the accused Bishop's test was done confirmed that he tested positive for coronavirus.
"The test results returned positive July 12. This is his second test result. His first test returned negative for the virus," a health official from the hospital told TNM. According to the Bishop's personal secretary, the accused had been in room quarantine in the Bishop Home in Civil Lines, Jalandhar, ever since he had come in contact with a coronavirus patient.
The Bishop’s bail was cancelled by the Kottayam Principal Sessions court after he failed to appear before the court for all 14 hearings held so far. His counsel had told the court that Bishop Franco was unable to make it to Monday's hearing as he was in quarantine after he had met a lawyer in Jalandhar to discuss the case, and who later tested positive for coronavirus.
The Bishop’s counsel also added that he was stuck in a containment zone in Jalandhar in Punjab. However, after the court was informed that this is not true, and that the Civil Lines locality where the Bishop resided was not a containment zone, the court cancelled his bail and issued a non-bailable warrant against the accused. The next hearing in the case has been scheduled in August.
Bishop Franco, of the Jalandhar Diocese, has been accused of raping a 44-year-old nun from the Missionaries of Jesus convent in Kuruvilangad, Kottayam between 2014 and 2016. He was arrested on September 21, 2018. His arrest came after relentless protests by five nuns from the congregation. However, in October 2018, he was granted bail.
Bishop Franco has tried to delay the trial in the rape case multiple times before. He recently filed a discharge petition in the Kerala High Court seeking that his name be removed as an accused in the case. His counsel who submitted the petition argued that the charges against the accused will not hold as the case was based on statements of witnesses who resented the Bishop. However, the court dismissed the petition, stating that the evidence in the chargesheet is sufficient for a trial to be held against him.
Back in Kerala, members of Save Our Sisters (SOS) Action Council, a combine of laity, clergy men and others who fought to get Bishop Franco arrested, raised doubts on the claim.
"We seriously doubt the legitimacy of this update. We have confirmation that the Bishop House where the accused is residing is not under a lockdown. The incumbent Administrative Bishop has been stepping out of the residence. The other priests too have not been in quarantine. If there is a COVID-19 patient in Bishop House, then their approach would not be so lax and casual," Riju, a member of SOS told TNM.