The death of Father Kuriakose Kattuthara at St Mary's church in Dasuya in Jalandhar on Monday has sent a shiver down the spine of nuns, who had protested against rape accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal. Father Kuriakose, who was a prosecution witness in the rape case had given a statement to the police against Fr Franco, was found dead on Monday morning. While the exact cause of his death is not known, Father Kuriakose’s brother Jose Kattuthara said he was suspicious about his death and alleged that he had been killed for giving a statement against Bishop Franco Mulakkal.
The Missionaries of Jesus priest, who was 62 years old, was a vocational teacher at the Jalandhar diocese and had also taught the survivor nun and the other nuns who protested for justice. Speaking to TNM, the sister of the survivor nun said, “We all knew him very well. He was our teacher. He was one of the first people we confided in and since he has been part of Jalandhar diocese, he knew Franco was not a good person. He had supported us. My sister used to speak to him at all times and used to get advice from him.”
Father Kuriakose had in an earlier interview to Mathrubhumi news expressed fears over what would happen to him for speaking out against Franco Mulakkal. The sister of the survivor nun said the threats against him worsened since the accused was given bail on October 15. “He has said many times he has received threats. He was attacked once we heard. The threats got worse after Franco came out on bail. Franco is anyway so powerful there (in Jalandhar) that people are afraid of him.”
Though the sister of the survivor nun says they are shaken by Father Kuriakose’s death, they will continue to fight for justice. “We feel that his death is a message to us to keep quiet and not to take Franco on. We are scared but we will not stop speaking against Franco or fight for justice,” she said.
Expressing shock at Father Kuriakose’s death, Sister Anupama, who had led the protests against Bishop Franco, told TNM, “We are very shocked to hear this news. Father Kuriakose has taught me and he was part of our parish as well. He was a crucial witness in our case as he had given statements against Bishop Franco to the police. I haven’t been in touch with him but I had heard from other priests that he had been facing a lot of pressure of late, with many in the church pointing fingers at him. We feel the circumstances of his death are suspicious and may affect our case against Bishop Franco.”
Sister Anupama alose went on to say that Bishop Franco made sure that Fr Kuriakose was only just a priest and did not rise in the diocese. When asked whether his death had scared them, she said, " It's not about fear. We are sad that who we see today we may not see tomorrow. We don't fear death but we fear that justice will not be given."
In an interview to Mathrubhumi, Fr Kuriakose had said, “The sisters had approached me complaining about Bishop Franco. They did not approach the Kerala police fearing the bishop. In fact, I fear what will happen to me for speaking out against him.”
Bishop Franco Mulakkal has been accused of raping a 44-year-old nun multiple times between 2014 and 2016. He was arrested on September 21 two months after the survivor lodged a police complaint. Protests by five nuns who supported the survivor sparked outrage across the state, exerting pressure on Kerala police, who then issued summons to the bishop.
On October 15, Franco Mulakkal was granted conditional bail. The Kerala High Court had at the time of granting his bail ordered the bishop to be present before the investigating officer once in two weeks. The bishop has also been directed to surrender his passport to the court and he has been forbidden from entering Kerala. He had received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Jalandhar on October 17, with supporters showering him with rose petals and garlanding him.