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Nun’s rape: Pope temporarily relieves Bishop Franco of pastoral duties

Kochi/Chandigarh, September 20: A new administrator was on Thursday appointed from Mumbai, instead of Father Mathew Kokkandum, whom Bishop Franco Mulakkal had assigned responsibilities before “stepping aside temporarily” as Bishop of the Jalandhar Diocese.

Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was questioned by Kerala police for the second day over rape charges by a nun, has been temporarily relieved of his pastoral responsibilities by Pope Francis, the Catholic Bishop Conference of India (CBCI) said Thursday.

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Agnelo Rufino Gracias, Titular Bishop of Molicunza and Auxiliary Bishop emeritus of Bombay, would take over as the Bishop of Jalandhar Diocese.

Meanwhile, the SIT of the Kerala Police probing the case of alleged rape of a nun by the bishop questioned him on Thursday also even as the state police chief said a decision on Franco Mulakkal’s arrest could be taken in a day or two.

Hours after Mulakkal, accused of repeated rape and sexual assault, appeared before the Special Investigation Team for interrogation, the state’s DGP Loknath Behera said the investigating officer will decide on whether to arrest him once the examination got over.

“After examining him only a decision will be taken. Investigating team is examining him. Let us wait. A decision will be definitely taken today or tomorrow after the interrogation,” Behera told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.

He said the investigating officer was free to take a call on the issue.

When asked whether Mulakkal can be arrested before September 25, the day his anticipatory bail plea will come up for hearing in the high court, the top police officer said, “I think, legally there is no problem. There is no such law (that bars arrest during pendency of bail plea). That we will discuss with the legal team.”

Citing convention, legal experts had said the priest is unlikely to be arrested before September 25.

Mulakkal, the bishop of the Jalandhar diocese of the Missionaries of Jesus, the congregation to which the alleged victim also belongs, was grilled by the SIT headed by DySP K Subhash for seven hours Wednesday. He was asked to appear before it again today.

The bishop, who recently temporarily relinquished his administrative responsibilities, joined the probe at around 11 am at the crime branch office, where some members of All India Youth Federation, the students front of the CPI, held a protest demanding his arrest. They had also staged a protest Wednesday.

Some people also burnt an effigy of Mulakkal. Kottayam Superintendent of Police Hari Sankar said the bishop’s questioning was likely to be over today.

Meanwhile, police have tightened security in and around the crime branch office.

The nun has accused the senior Catholic priest of sexually assaulting her repeatedly between 2014 and 2016, allegations denied by the clergyman who has pleaded innocence.

Meanwhile, the protest by various Catholic reform organisations and a group of nuns seeking Mulakkal’s arrest entered its 13th day Thursday.

The agitation at Kochi’s Vanchi Square is a spontaneous expression of outrage by these groups over the alleged assault of the nun.

A protesting nun said they were all waiting for the news of the arrest of the bishop so a strong message goes out to those who abuse women.

Source Tribune India

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