Kerala police today filed a charge sheet against Bishop Franco Mulakkal, a clergyman accused of raping a nun on several occasions over the course of two years. He was arrested in September last year, but later let out on bail.
This is the first time in the history of the Catholic Church in India that a top clergyman is being tried in court over allegations of sexual assault.
The charge sheet was filed at a court in Kerala's Pala by a special investigation team formed to probe the rape allegations. Bishop Mulakkal has been charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including rape, criminal intimidation, unnatural sex and wrongful confinement.
Four Kerala nuns had met the Kottayam Superintendent of Police last month to complain about the delay in filing the charge sheet against Bishop Mulakkal, and claimed that they were "living in extreme fear". According to sources, the draft charge sheet had been ready for filing since December.
"It's only through a huge struggle that we have even come to this point of seeing this charge sheet get filed. We believe that we will get justice," one of the protesting nuns told mediapersons.
The nuns alleged that they have come under immense pressure over the last few months, with the church attempting to separate them from the complainant nun and even serving warning notices in an alleged attempt to dilute the case.
"This is not a victory. Save Our Sisters has always believed that every accused needs to be treated as an accused and not shielded by religion," said Father Augustine Vattoli, who is part of the campaign launched in support of the nun. "This charge sheet comes due to the backing of the people of Kerala, who stood with the nuns and the demand for justice."
Bishop Mulakkal is accused of raping the nun on 14 occasions from 2014 to 2016. Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, another member of the clergy, was found dead at a church in Hoshiarpur's Dasuya in October last year -- months after he deposed against the bishop in the rape case.