Vatican accepts court decision on Mulakkal case: Nuncio

Matters India [New Delhi, IN]

June 12, 2022

By Jose Kavi

Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, apostolic nuncio to India and Nepal, on June 11 said the Vatican has accepted the Indian court decision about Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar.

The nuncio, who was on a two-day pastoral visit to Jalandhar, said this June 11 while addressing the priests of the diocese of Jalandhar.

The nuncio said Bishop Mulakkal is an Indian citizen and the Vatican goes by the decision of the local court.

“Accordingly, Bishop Franco [Mulakkal] is innocent and free of all charges. With regards to the future, it is not in my hands but with Rome. Let us wait for it patiently,” Archbishop Girelli told the priests.

The Vatican on September 20, 2018, accepted Bishop Mulakkal’s request to relieve him from his duties until the case was over. It then appointed Bishop Agnelo Gracias as the diocesan administrator.

On January 14 this year, a court in Kerala, southern India, acquitted Bishop Mulakkal in the nun rape case.

Judge G Gopakumar of the Additional Sessions District Court in Kottayam town let the bishop free for want of evidence.

The rape case against the bishop was registered by police in Kerala’s Kottayam district on June 27, 2018.

He was arrested September 21, 2018, and sent to jail in Palai, a town in Kerala’s Kottayam district. However, he was released on bail on October 15, 2018.

The alleged rape survivor, a former superior general of the Missionaries of Jesus, had accused Bishop Mulakkal of subjecting her to sexual abuse at least 13 times between 2014 and 2016.

The nun and the Kerala government have appealed against the verdict in the Kerala High Court, which in turn has issued a notice to Bishop Mulakkal.

Archbishop Girelli visited Jalandhar June 10-11. This was his first visit to diocese after taking over as the envoy of the Pope in India in May 2021.

Bishop Gracias joined priests and nuns in the diocese to welcome the nuncio. He reached the diocesan headquarters at Civil Lines June 10 evening.

During his visit, the Archbishop presided over the prayers at the Sacred Heart Church in Jalandhar and St Mary’s Cathedral in Jalandhar Cantonment. He also visited Trinity College campus and St Pius Church Lamma Pind.

Meanwhile a report in the Indian Express said the nuncio was told that all was not well in Jalandhar diocese. A delegation of the Catholic Union, senior citizens and members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council reportedly met the nuncio June 11 at the Bishop’s House and submitted a memorandum stating their grievances against local officials of the diocese.

They alleged that there is no transparency regarding the working of the officials, and personal interests are getting the better of charity works.

Hostels, coaching institutions, dance schools, sports projects, employment institutions, livelihood, sponsorship and scholarships programs are on the verge of closure, they alleged.

The group also raised the issue of Dalit Christians who continue to face social discrimination. They alleged that the local Church officials were not taking up their matter in a manner it ought to be.

They said that even the nuncio’s visit was not published in ‘Sada Zamana’ – the diocese’s monthly magazine in Punjabi language.

They said that the nuncio’s visit means a lot to the local Church, especially when Punjab is beset with problems of drug menace, gang wars and discrimination against Dalits, among others.

The nuncio’s visit took place a week after a top Sikh leader expressed concern over churches and mosques being built in large numbers in rural Punjab and urged Sikh preachers to reach out and counter this trend of conversion, particularly in the state’s border areas.

“Today, we (the Sikhs) are facing a lot of challenges. Christianity is being spread in Punjab on a large scale to weaken us (Sikhs) religiously. Churches and mosques are being built in large numbers in the villages of Punjab, which is worrisome for us,” Akal Takht (seat of power) acting jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh on June 6 said this during his customary address to an event organized to mark the 38th anniversary of Operation Bluestar at Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, in Punjab’s Amritsar.

He appealed to Sikh preachers to launch a drive against what he said was a trend of conversion.

The Sikh leader also said the most affected was the border belt.

However, Church leaders have denied the charge.

“This is not true. People have the right to preach any religion. The statement of the Sikh religious leader has not come at a right time. We are all talking about religious harmony in the country. No conversion is taking place,” said Church of North India Bishop Pradeep Samantaroy of Amritsar.

Bishop Gracias too denied the allegation and said, “We don’t convert people. It’s a country where people are free to preach. There is no conversion going on. Only dormant Christians have become active and have started practicing the faith.”

Archbishop Girelli hails from the province Bergamo in Italy. He has worked in the papal diplomatic missions in Cameroon and New Zealand and at the section for general affairs of Vatican Secretariat of State, and in the Apostolic Nunciature to the US where he held the rank of counselor. He also served as the Apostolic Nuncio to various countries before Pope Francis appointed him nuncio to India in March 2021 and to Nepal on September 2021.