Bishop Franco Mulakkal acquitted in rape case; the nuns say they will appeal

A Kerala court on Friday acquitted Catholic Bishop Franco Mulakkal on charges of raping a nun at a convent in the state, citing various reasons including the victim’s inconsistent version of the incidents and lack of corroborating evidence to prove the accusation.

Mulakkal, 57, was accused of repeatedly raping the nun during her visit to a nunnery in this district between 2014 and 2016 when he was Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jalandhar. The plaintiff is a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under the Diocese of Jalandhar.

Acquitting Bishop, District and Supplementary Session Court Judge I, Kottayam in the order says victim’s allegation that she was raped 13 times under duress cannot be considered on the basis of his solitary testimony.

Observing that there was no consistency in the victim’s statement, the court said that the grievance projected by her to her companion sisters was that the defendant was taking retaliatory measures for not giving in to her sexual desires. , while her version in court was that she was forced to have sex with the defendant 13 times, including fingering the first time.

“The prosecution failed to provide proper explanations for the inconsistent version,” he said.

Noting that the victim’s original version to the doctor was that there was no history of penetrative sex, the court referred to various judgments and said that given the inconsistent version of the victim, he is of the opinion that she cannot be qualified as a quality witness, nor can she be considered as an entirely reliable witness.

The court said that apart from the victim’s testimony, “there is no corroborating evidence to prove the prosecution’s case.”

“Police were unable to seize the mobile phone used by the victim which allegedly contributed to the alleged vulgar messages sent by the defendant. The explanation given for the non-production of the phone is wholly unsatisfactory,” said the court.

He said the laptop had also not been subjected to forensic analysis, as it is claimed that the hard drive was damaged.

The court said it was a case in which the wheat and the chaff were inextricably mixed.

“It is impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. There are exaggerations and embellishments in the victim’s version. She also tried everything to hide certain facts,” he said.

The court said it was obvious the victim had been influenced by others who had other interests in the case.

The internal struggle, rivalry and group fights of the nuns, as well as the desire for power, position and control over the congregation is evident from the demand placed by PW1 (victim) and her supporting nuns who were willing to settle the matter if their demands for a separate region under the Diocese of Bihar is accepted by the church,” he said.

“As the hon’ble apex (supreme) of Jayaseelan (supra) judged when it is not possible to separate truth from falsehood, when the wheat and the chaff are inextricably mingled, the only way available is to reject the evidence in its entirety.

“In these circumstances, this court is unable to rely on the solitary testimony of PW1 (victim) and hold the defendant guilty of the offenses with which he is charged,” the court said in its order acquitting Mulakkal of the offenses. under various ICCs. sections.

A visibly relieved and moved Mulakkal, who arrived in court to hear the verdict, burst into tears, hugged his supporters and lawyers, sharing his joy at the verdict.

“Daivathinu Sthuthi (praise the Lord),” he said when reporters repeatedly asked for his reaction.

A group of nuns from Kuravilangad nunnery here, who stood with the victim, were on the verge of tears when they said they had not yet believed such a verdict had been handed down by the court and that they didn’t know what had happened.

The survivor and her followers are staying at Kuravilangad convent in Kottayam.

Sister Anupama, who was the face of the nun’s long-standing fight for justice, said she would surely challenge the verdict in the top court and push her hapless colleague’s fight forward.

“We will continue our stay at the convent and continue our fight until our sister obtains justice. The police and the prosecution gave us justice, but we did not obtain the justice expected from justice,” he said. the nun told reporters.

Criminal lawyer B Raman Pillai, who led the Bishop’s legal team, said they had the right to appeal the verdict. “Even if they appeal, there is no tension because the charges against the bishop are false,” Pillai told PTI.

Explaining the factors that contributed to the verdict in favor of his party, the lawyer said that the prosecution case was very weak, the investigation was very poor and the statements of most witnesses were in favor of his party. the accused because they were telling the truth.

Investigators, lawyers and social activists who supported the nun in her fight against Mulakkal expressed shock at the verdict, saying it was completely unexpected.

Calling the verdict “very, very unfortunate” and “unnatural”, senior IPS officer S Harishankar, who had led the special investigation team in the rape case, said a 100% conviction was expected in the case and that the verdict would be a “shock” to the entire justice system of the country.

“An appeal will be filed in superior court challenging this verdict. The state police chief has already issued instructions in this regard,” he told reporters.

Mulakkal is the first Indian bishop arrested in connection with a rape case.

In her complaint to the police in June 2018, the nun claimed to have been sexually abused by Mulakkal between 2014 and 2016.

The SIT arrested Bishop in September 2018 and charged him with forcible confinement, rape, unnatural sex and criminal intimidation.

The trial in the case, which began in November 2019, ended on January 10. The court had banned print and electronic media from publishing anything relating to the trial in the case without its permission.