Indian diocese will not fund defense for bishop accused of rape

Bishop Franco Bishop Franco Mulakkal. | Linto 11/wikimedia. CC BY 4.0

The Diocese of Jalandhar will not pay for the criminal defense of its bishop, who is accused of serially raping a religious sister.

Bishop Agnelo Gracias, who was appointed Sept. 20 by Pope Francis as interim leader of the Indian diocese, told reporters Nov. 6 that Bishop Franco Mulakkal's brother has been paying for the bishop's legal expenses.

"His family back home is quite well off. So, no request has come to us from his side," Gracias said Nov. 6, adding that the diocese would consider providing financial support to Mulakkal's accuser if she requested it.

Mulakkal, who remains head of the Diocese of Jalandhar but was sidelined by the appointment of Gracias, was arrested Sept. 21. He is suspected of having raped a member of the Missionaries of Jesus more than a dozen times during a two year period that began May 5, 2014.

The bishop claims that the nun accused him of rape as retaliation, because he had ordered an investigation into a claim that she was having an affair with a relative. He maintains his innocence.

Mulakkal was released from police custody on bail shortly after his arrest. However, police threatened last week to revoke his bail unless the bishop turned over by Nov. 5 a laptop believed to contain evidence in the case. Indian officials have not yet reported whether the bishop has turned over the laptop, or whether he will face reincarceration.

A government panel last week conducted an autopsy of Father Kuriakose Kattuhara, a priest who was found dead Oct. 22, weeks after providing police with testimony against the bishop. Family members have alleged foul play, but results of the autopsy have not yet been released, NDTV has reported.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Jalandhar told reporters Nov. 6 that it was the diocese "who insisted that everything should remain transparent," during the autopsy and investigation into Kattuhara's death.

"I suggested that his post-mortem could be filmed so that there would be no fingers pointing at us later," added diocesan spokesman Fr. Peter Kavumpuran.

Mulakkal also faces criticism over charges of mismanagement at a religious congregation he founded in the diocese, the Franciscan Missionaries of Jesus. The congregation is accused of recruiting seminarians who had been rejected by a regional seminary, and questions have been raised about the congregation's financial administration, according to India's Tribune News Service.

Kavumpuran told Tribune News Service that charges against the congregation were unfounded.

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