Charged with rape by Kerala police, Bishop Franco Mullackal today presented himself at a court in Pala, a small town 173 km north of the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, with an attempted show of strength. He was accompanied by at least 12 priests, from both Jalandhar and Kerala, and several female supporters, as well as members of his family.
Prior to his appearance at the court, the accused bishop prayed at a church, where he was overheard saying, "Help me to abide in God and continue the fight against in justice and lies".
The next hearing in the case has been scheduled for June 7 and the court also accepted the bishop's request to extend his bail.
"We are part of Mullackal family and we believe Bishop has not done this crime. We have come to support him", one of the women who accompanied Bishop Mullackal said.
When asked if the nun who made the rape allegation wasn't also part of the church family, shed added, "The nun is part of the church. But the Bishop hasn't done anything wrong, and we are here for him".
The priests who accompanied the bishop did not respond to any questions.
Bishop Mullackal is the first Catholic bishop in India to be tried on charges of rape.
The charges were leveled by a nun who accused him of sexual assault on the night of May 5, 2014. She said she was raped multiple times thereafter till September 23, 2016. The bishop has been charged with rape, wrongful confinement, unnatural offence and criminal intimidation.
The victim and other nuns living in the same hostel had earlier repeatedly complained of intimidation and pressure from church authorities. They claimed the church was trying to separate them from the victim.
Last year, members of various Catholic reformation organisations protested on the streets of Kochi alleging that the police probing the case were trying to sabotage the investigation.
"We are fighting for our sister. She has been denied justice by the Church, government and the police. We are ready to go to any extent for ensuring justice to our sister," a nun told protesters who held placards demanding the arrest of Bishop Franco.
Bishop Franco Mullackal's court appearance coincides with a worldwide order issued by Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, to report cases of rape and sexual abuse, and its cover-up, to higher authorities within the organization.