Amid mounting pressure and continued protests demanding action against him over a nun’s allegation of rape, Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar diocese has been asked by the Kerala Police to appear before the investigating team on September 19.
Announcing the decision to summon the clergyman after a meeting where the probe in the case was reviewed, inspector General of police Vijay Sakhare on Wednesday said the delay in completing it was due to “contradictions” in the statements given by the victim, the witnesses and the accused.
He also said a decision on arrest could be taken only after ironing out the contradictions in the statements.
The meeting, chaired by Sakhare, was also attended by Kottayam District Superintendent of Police Harisankar and Vaikom Deputy Superintendent of Police K Subhash, who is heading the Special Investigation Team probing the case.
“Bishop Franco Mulakkal has been summoned by the investigating officer (IO).
He has been asked to appear before the IO on September 19,” Sakhare told reporters.
The bishop, who was already questioned by the state police in Jalandhar last month, is expected to be interrogated in Kottayam.
The development came as the protests by various Catholic Reform organisations and some nuns in Kochi seeking justice for the victim entered the fifth day Wednesday and the Kerala High Court was moved seeking a CBI probe.
Leaders of the Mahila Congress, BJP and various rights organisations expressed solidarity with the protesters.
The state government made it clear that it stood with the protesting nuns and there was no need for them to be anxious, reiterating that the investigation was going on in the “right direction”.
The Kerala Catholic Bishop Council, however, slammed the protests as having “crossed all limits”, while noting both the complainant nun and accused bishop were members of Catholic family and the church shared their “wound and agony”.
The nun had recently sought urgent intervention of the Vatican for justice and demanded the bishop’s removal as the head of the Jalandhar diocese, questioning why the church was “closing its eyes to the truth” when she mustered courage to make public her sufferings.
In a scathing letter to the Vatican that was made available to the media Tuesday, the nun also asked will the Church be able to give back what she has lost. She alleged that Bishop Franco Mulakkal was using “political and money power” to bury the case against him.
She had accused the clergyman of sexually assaulting her repeatedly between 2014 and 2016.
The bishop had, however, dismissed the allegations as “baseless and concocted”, insisting she levelled those as the Catholic order had rejected her demand for favours.
IG Sakhare said there were lot of contradictions in the case. “And the case is an old case and it is based primarily on oral evidence. It is very difficult to gather scientific and technical evidence,” he added.
Police, as part of the investigation, have to ensure that all these contradictions were ironed out.
“So that when the charge sheet is submitted we have evidences and we are totally sure about what we are doing and what evidence we have,” Sakhare said.
The review meeting also finalised the affidavit to be submitted on Thursday in the Kerala High Court, which had earlier this week directed the state government to inform it of the steps taken by the SIT.
While considering a plea filed by George Joseph K of the Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement seeking a court-monitored probe into the case, the court had said, “Law is above all other things and it will take its own course.”
The KCBC said the allegation raised against the bishop was ‘serious’, adding that whoever may be the accused, they should be punished if the charges were proved. “This is the firm stand of the Church,” it said.
However, it denounced the protests, saying it “has crossed all limits”.
It also alleged attempts by vested interests and a section of media to tarnish the church and the bishop community as a whole under the cover of the protesting nuns and said this was not “acceptable”.
Police should not succumb to any kind of pressure and should complete the investigation impartially at the earliest, Vaghese Vallikkat, deputy secretary general and official spokesperson of KCBC, said in a release here.
Senior Minister E P Jayarajan said investigation, covering all aspects, was going on in the “right direction”.
“I wish to make one thing very clear. We are with the victim.
No accused will be allowed to escape the clutches of the law,” he told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.
The government was keen that there should be ample evidence to ensure the prosecution case was strong, he said.
In a related development, a fresh petition was filed in the court Wednesday seeking a CBI probe into the case.
Petitioner V Rajendran from Alappuzha alleged that the investigation was ‘ineffective’ and police efforts were aimed at protecting the interests of the accused. The petition is likely to be considered Thursday.
In an indication of the Latin Church disowning its Jalandhar Bishop, an organisation attached to the Latin Catholic church, issued a statement in Kochi saying had he resigned from the post when the allegations cropped up, he would have got greater acceptability in the society.
The statement was issued by Shaji George, spokesperson of the Kerala Region Latin Catholic Council (KRLCC), headed by Archbishop of the Thiruvananthapuram archdiocese Soosa Pakiam.
The KRLCC criticised Bishop Franco’s argument that the personal allegations and criticisms against him were as part of the move to target the Church as a whole.
However, a clergyman of an influential Kerala diocese slammed the “public trial” in the matter.
Auxiliary Bishop of Changanassery Archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Thomas Tharayil sought to know whether declaring a person guilty without an investigation and trial was a new Kerala model.
Tharayil said one should be considered innocent till the charge against him was proved in a court of law.
However, “If an accused is a priest or a Catholic Bishop, he will be treated as a guilty till his innocence is proved,” he said sarcastically.