Police in the southern Indian state of Kerala have summoned a bishop accused of raping a Catholic nun for questioning, following days of protests by a collective of nuns, women’s groups and activists.
The Indian media on Wednesday reported that Franco Mulakkal, head of the Jalandhar diocese in northern Punjab state, has finally been summoned and is likely to be questioned on September 19.
The decision to question Mulakkal came on the fifth day of a sit-in protest in Kerala, demanding action against the bishop accused of sexually assaulting the 46-year-old Catholic nun from the Catholic congregation Missionaries of Jesus.
The nun has alleged that Mulakkal raped her repeatedly between 2014-2016 at a convent in Kerala.
“Arrest this man who is a culprit, that’s the demand of the nun who was raped. She has given a statement to the police saying she was raped, why is the government hesitating to arrest this rapist?” Felix J Pulludan, secretary at the Joint Christian Council, told Al Jazeera.
Arrest this man who is a culprit, that's the demand of the nun who was raped ... Why is the government hesitating to arrest this rapist?
“Four nuns are sitting in protest near the High Court in Kochi against injustice done to the sister. Our protests will grow stronger in the coming days. The government must act now,” Pulludan, protest organiser of “Save our Sisters”, said from the protest site in front of the High Court in Kochi, Kerala’s largest city.
It’s the latest scandal in the Catholic church’s continuing sexual abuse crisis globally.
The accused denies all allegations against him and said the nun, who had worked with him earlier, was trying to blackmail him after he took disciplinary action against her.
On Tuesday, the nun wrote to the Vatican’s envoy to India, Reverend Giambattista Diquattro, alleging the accused Bishop and his close associates “are using the wealth of the diocese to divert” the probe.
The Vatican embassy in New Delhi refused to answer queries relating to the case.
The Roman Catholic religious order, the Missionaries of Jesus, said in a statement on Monday that the protesting nuns were trying “to crucify an innocent man”.
“We condemn the act by the sisters of our congregation who are protesting outside the High Court. As far as our congregation is concerned, we are ashamed and saddened by this protest,” read the press release put out by the Missionaries of Jesus.
The nun lodged a police complaint on June 27 but the police have yet to arrest the accused priest. A local court will hear the case on Thursday in Kochi.
Protest organisers say they are up against the might and clout of the church, but they will not back down in the face of intimidation.
Inspector General of Police in Kerala state Dinendra Kashyap told Al Jazeera the probe is ongoing, but refused to divulge details.
“No doubt he is using the clout of the Roman Catholic Church. The accused is using money and muscle power to influence the probe,” Pulludan, the protest organiser, said.
Indian broadcaster NDTV quoted the brother of the nun as saying he was offered a bribe to withdraw the complaint.
On Sunday, an elected member of the Kerala state assembly, PC George, described the victim as a “prostitute”, drawing condemnation from women’s groups and members of civil society.
This is a woman making the charge of rape against a powerful man. This is an issue that the Church has to take notice of
The case in Kerala brings back focus on abuse by the clergy amid calls in the US for Pope Francis to stand down for allegedly covering up for a former US cardinal who was accused of sexually molesting children and adults.
In India, the allegations have shaken up the Christian community, who form 2.3 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population, although this is not the first case of reported sexual abuse.
Earlier this year in June, a 34-year-old woman in Kerala said she was raped by several priests after confessing that she was sexually abused at 16. Three priests allegedly blackmailed her into performing sexual acts in exchange for telling no one about the abuse she had suffered.
There is no available data to document the extent of sexual abuse within the church in India.
“This is a woman making the charge of rape against a powerful man. This is an issue that the church has to take notice of,” rights activist and former President of the All Indian Catholic Union, John Dayal, told Al Jazeera.
“The canon law must include a provision that if there is an allegation of sexual abuse, a bishop has to step down or be suspended after a preliminary inquiry till such time as a complete probe has established his innocence or guilt.
“The church has to be united and not a divided house when it comes to allegations like these,” he added.