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Opinion

Franco Mulakkal ‘not guilty’, but church officials guilty in court of public opinion for not standing with rape victim

As for the accused bishop, despite the judgment, questions will remain whether justice has really been done. Till the time the full judgment becomes public, the only thing we know is that the judge possibly didn’t find enough evidence to agree with the prosecution about Franco’s guilt.

Franco Mulakkal
File Photo of Franco Mulakkal. (Photo ANI)

In 2018, a nun approached the police, alleging that the then bishop of the Jalandhar diocese of Roman Catholic Church repeatedly raped her – 13 times – between 2014 and 2016.

While the church brushed the allegations, despite their seriousness, under the carpet, a move seen as being part of a cover-up, public uproar ensured that the bishop – Franco Mulakkal – was booked and charged with offences ranging from wrongful confinement, rape, unnatural sex and criminal intimidation.

What happened thereafter was something that one normally witnesses when the accused is a hardened criminal with a history – not when the accused is a bishop. The victim as well as those seen as supporting her was threatened and attempts were made to besmirch her reputation.

Today, a lower court in Kerala acquitted the powerful bishop, thus ensuring that he has escaped, at least for the time being, till an appellate court turns down today’s verdict, the ignominy of becoming the first catholic bishop to be convicted of rape in India.

While the bishop’s alleged crime remains unpunished, the church, which went out of its way to protect him – the nun submitted a complaint to the Church in June 2017 but no action was taken for over a year till she finally decided to go to the police – isn’t so lucky and will find it hard to explain why it decided not to stand with a rape victim, especially one who worked within its ranks. After all, the nun first complained about the bishop’s alleged actions to his superiors, including the office of the Pope.

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But nothing happened. For their offence of trying to silence the victim and her supporters, the church and its powerful functionaries already stand indicted in the court of public opinion.

As for the accused bishop, despite the judgment, questions will remain whether justice has really been done. Till the time the full judgment becomes public, the only thing we know is that the judge possibly didn’t find enough evidence to agree with the prosecution about Franco’s guilt.

Did, for example, the trial court take into consideration the fact, highlighted by the Kerala High Court while rejecting the bishop’s plea to be discharged in the case, that the petitioner (bishop) was in a “fiduciary capacity and had domain over the victim”?

Today’s judgment, however, doesn’t take anything away from the fact that the victim and other women and, some men, have waged a relentless campaign to get justice.

That one of Franco’s main defence was that the nun complained against her only because he had decided to take action against her for some kind of unholy relationship with the husband of her cousin sister only highlights the hurdles she had to cross.

Now that the prosecution has already indicated that it isn’t satisfied with the judgment and could go in appeal, It will be interesting to see if the higher courts also agree with Franco’s defence. As for the church officials, who didn’t stand up and stand with the victim, there won’t be any appeal. They will have to live with the blot.

ALSO READ: Court Acquits Ex-Bishop Franco Mulakkal In Rape Case; A Timeline Of Events