Vatican accepts resignation of rape-accused Indian bishop

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

June 1, 2023

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of India’s Jalandhar diocese more than a year after a lower court acquitted him of all charges of raping a nun.

“The letter of resignation I have written after prayerful reflection and consultation with my superiors was accepted by our dear Pope Francis today,” Mulakkal announced in a social media message on June 1.

The Vatican removed Mulakkal from the administrative responsibilities of the diocese based in northern Punjab state just before police arrested him in 2018 on charges of raping a nun.

The nun, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation,  under the patronage of the bishop, accused him of raping her more than 13 times between 2014 and 2016 inside her convent in Kerala’s Kottayam district.

A district court in southern Kerala state, where the complainant nun lived, acquitted Mulakkal. The court on Jan. 14, 2022, said the prosecution could not establish the police charges against Mulakkal. He was acquitted of all seven charges.

Even after his arrest, the Vatican allowed Mulakkal to retain his title as bishop of Jalandhar and appointed an apostolic administrator in the diocese.

Mulakkal in his message thanked all who supported him during the harassment he underwent and the “pain and tears” he suffered following the allegation.

“I sincerely thank everyone who prayed for me, who loved me and who shared my pain, and who stood with me,” he said in his native Malayalam language.

He said he submits “at the foot of the cross” the ordeals he suffered and the pain it gave him all these years.

The apostolic nunciature in a June 1 statement said the resignation was requested from Mulakkal but it was not a disciplinary action.

“Given the still divisive situation” about the case concerning Mulakkal “the resignation has been requested” from Mulakkal “not as a disciplinary measure imposed upon him, but as a pro bono Ecclesiae, especially for the good of the diocese, which needs a new bishop,” the nunciature said in the statement.

Mulakkal’s current status is Emeritus Bishop of Jalandhar and it “does not imply canonical restrictions on his ministry,” the statement added.

Bishop Angelo Gracias, the  apostolic administrator of Jalandhar in a message said with the resignation of Mulakkal, the diocese of Jalandhar “is now vacant.”  

Gracias said he has been reappointed apostolic administrator of “the diocese, sede vacante” (a vacant see).

He also thanked Mulakkal for the decision to resign “for the good of the Church and of the Diocese, thereby paving the way for the appointment of a new bishop.”  

However, John Dayal, a senior lay Catholic leader based in New Delhi said the resignation came after Pope Francis demanded it.

“The appeal against his acquittal in the rape case is admitted. He did not volunteer his resignation earlier or now,” Dayal told UCA News on June 1.

Besides he said Pope Francis has recently reappointed the administrator and has declared a vacancy in the Jalandhar diocese

“A new Bishop will be appointed sooner rather than later,” Dayal said.

Allowing Mulakkal “to use his title saves him from public disgrace,” he added.

The congregation of the complainant nun will “continue to be in the public gaze for a long time to come.  The administrator or the new bishop will have to take a call on the future of this diocesan order which also needs a bit of a shake-up,” he said.