An Indian court has cleared a bishop accused of raping a nun between 2014 and 2016 in a case that had shocked one of the country’s oldest Christian communities.
Franco Mulakkal, 54, was arrested from the southern state of Kerala in 2018. He had denied the allegations.
After the nun claimed that the Catholic Church had ignored her complaints, the case sparked widespread outrage.
The bishop had been temporarily relieved of his duties by the Vatican.
On Friday, a trial court in Kerala’s Kottayam city found him not guilty of the charges.
“The prosecution failed to prove all of the charges against the accused,” said G Gopakumar, Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) in Kottayam.
Lawyers for the nuns said they would appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court.
However, the bishop’s legal team stated that the incident “shattered the entire evidence” against him.
“This is a contentious case. It will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court. That’s fine,” Raman Pillai, who led Mr Mulakkal’s defence team, told BBC Hindi.
“However, the court ruled that he was not guilty. Clearly, the evidence presented by the prosecution witnesses was thrown out. This implies that the charge was false. “There was no rape,” he added.
Mr Mulakkal was the bishop of a diocese in Jalandhar, Punjab’s northernmost state. His accuser is a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, a Kerala-based congregation affiliated with the Diocese of Jalandhar.
She claimed that the bishop had raped her 13 times while visiting the convent where she lived in the Kerala city of Kottayam.
In 2018, she petitioned the Vatican and wrote an open letter to the Pope’s representative in the Indian capital of Delhi, claiming it was her fourth letter to them.
This sparked unprecedented protests by nuns and activists in support of the woman.
Several other nuns who protested the bishop accused the Kerala church and Vatican officials of turning a blind eye to the rape allegations.
Many nuns have also claimed that they were victimised as a result of their participation in the protests, including disciplinary warnings, transfer notices, and even expulsion from the congregation.
Friday’s judgement has sparked shock and anger among them.
“What happened is against Christianity,” said Sister Lucy Kalapura, who had been at the forefront of the protests against the bishop. In 2019, she was expelled from the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC) in Kerala.
According to the FCC, Sister Lucy was expelled because her “lifestyle was in violation of the proper law” of the congregation. But she denied this, claiming she was fired because she took part in the protests.
“This is not directed at a single woman or lady, but rather at a group of nuns. We will fight until the end of time. Justice is eternal “On Friday, she stated.