Survivor nun files appeal against Bishop Franco Mulakkal’s acquittal in rape case

Bishop Franco Mulakkal was acquitted in the Kerala nun rape case by a lower court in Kottayam in January this year.
An edited file image of Bishop Franco Mulakkal
An edited file image of Bishop Franco Mulakkal

The survivor nun in the Kerala nun rape case has filed an appeal against the acquittal of Bishop Franco Mulakkal in the case. The appeal was filed in the Kerala High Court on March 28 by a senior counsel. Bishop Franco Mulakkal of the Jalandhar diocese was acquitted by a lower court in Kottayam in January this year. The state government has not yet filed its appeal in the case, but on Wednesday, March 30, it gave sanction for the survivor's appeal.

On January 14, the Kottayam Additional district court judge G Gopakumar gave a clean chit to Franco in the rape case, despite the consistent stand of the complainant and the witnesses. The court acquitted Franco Mulakkal citing various reasons, including “the victim's inconsistent version of incidents and lack of corroborative evidence to prove the prosecution case.” 

Acquitting the bishop, the court order said, “in view of the inconsistent version of the victim, this court is of the view that she cannot be categorised as a sterling witness,” thereby discrediting her. The judgment said that “there is no consistency in the statement of the victim,” talking about the minor changes in deposition made by her at different times.

At the time, the special prosecutor in the case, Jithesh Babu, said that the acquittal would be challenged. The deadline for filing the appeal is 90 days from the date of the lower court verdict.

Incidentally, soon after the lower court's verdict, the former Kottayam SP of Police Harisankar, who oversaw the probe in the case, had said he was confident that the verdict would be against the accused and never thought they will lose the case. He had also said that Franco’s acquittal goes against sexual assault jurisprudence. “Acquitting a case with this many corroborations and medical evidence must be a first one in the history of Indian legal framework, and it stands as an odd one out in the Indian legal framework,” the former Superintendent of Police, who headed the investigation in the case, had said then.

The trial in the case extended over 105 days with 39 witnesses being examined and 122 documents produced before the court.

While serving as Bishop of the Jalandhar Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, Franco was accused of raping a nun, who belonged to the Missionaries of Jesus congregation. During his visits between 2014 and 2016 to Kerala, he was accused of raping the 43-year old nun on 13 occasions. Later, he was removed from the charge of the Jalandhar diocese.

A complaint was filed against him in June 2018 in Kerala and Mulakkal was arrested on September 21, 2018 on rape charges. He secured bail on October 16, 2018. Franco had approached the Kerala High Court and also the Supreme Court to quash the FIR against him, but both the courts did not do so.

The charge sheet in the case named 83 witnesses, including the Cardinal of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Mar George Alencherry, three bishops, 11 priests and 22 nuns. Of the 83 witnesses, 39 were called and they were heard.

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