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KOCHI, India (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a first for the Catholic Church in India, a group of nuns is demanding the arrest of a bishop accused of sexual assault.
In a sit-in protest on Saturday, half a dozen sisters blasted police for allowing Jalandhar Bp. Franco Mulakkal to remain free, two-and-a-half months after accusations of sexual assault began surfacing against him.
On June 29, a sister of the Missionaries of Jesus reported to authorities that, from 2014 to 2016, Mulakkal raped her more than a dozen times at her convent in the southern state of Kerala.
Denying the allegations, the bishop responded with accusations the nun was retaliating against him for investigating rumors she had broken her vow of chastity. But three more women — including two nuns —have since stepped forward, alleging they too were sexually assaulted by Mulakkal.
Across Kerala, anger is rising that law enforcement has yet to arrest the bishop, despite multiple accounts against him.
"All of us have given statement[s] against the bishop but the police are yet to make an arrest," lamented Sr. Anapura, a participant in Saturday's protest. "We don't know why the police have failed to make an arrest even after us giving statements on record."
Authorities insist they are committed to the investigation.
"We need more evidence to incriminate Bishop Mulakkal beyond any doubts," said District Police Chief Hari Sankar last week. "We have charted our plans for the next seven days and would verify and cross-check the evidence against the bishop."
But supporters of the Missionaries of Jesus nun are vowing to keep up the pressure.
"We are fighting for our sister," Sr. Anapura said Saturday. "She has been denied justice by the Church, government and police. We are ready to go to any extent for ensuring justice to our sister."
Anapura noted that Mulakkal has been targeting her group since they declared support for his accuser, saying the bishop is "trying to coerce a statement against the survivor from us."
The Missionaries of Jesus sister has also complained of harassment — including multiple death threats — since going public with her complaint against Mulakkal.
In August, Indian media revealed that, prior to reporting her alleged rape to the police, the sister wrote two letters to Abp. Giambattista Diquattro, Vatican representative to India, informing him of her complaints against the bishop.
Anger is growing at Church authorities for their lack of action.
"It is unfortunate that the Church has not initiated any measures against Bishop Franco, though the police have registered an FIR [first information report] and interrogated him," said Joseph Varghese, joint secretary of Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement. "The High Court also directed the government to arrest the accused bishop at the earliest. We will not end the protest until action against the bishop is taken."
Aneesh Prabhakaran of human rights group Mnushyavakasha Koottayma agreed.
"The Church leadership should seriously address the allegations raised by the nun," he said. "Though there were earlier instances of allegations of sexual abuse by priests, it is a rare and first-time incident that a nun openly registered protest and submitted a complaint against the bishop."
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