Protest against bishop enters 12th day, demands arrest

Protest against bishop enters 12th day, demands arrest

A protest march towards Ernakulam IG office demanding the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, accused of raping a nun, in Kochi, Wednesday, Sept 19, 2018. PTI photo

It is devoid of any big stage or the cacophony associated with most agitations, yet the 12-day old protest by Catholic reformist forums and some nuns demanding action against Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal, facing rape charges by a nun, here is intensifying each day.

Vanchi Sqaure, the protest venue, in the heart of the city and near the Kerala High Court is alive with a steady stream of people from different walks of life including activists, common man and regular churchgoers dropping in to express their solidarity.

As 54-year old bishop Franco appeared before police investigating the case in Thrippunithura near here Wednesday, the protesters expressed hope their demand for justice will be met and he would be arrested. A sister of the survivor nun, on a hunger strike, was hospitalised Wednesday after her health deteriorated even as a march was taken out to the office of Inspector General of Police here seeking the arrest of the Bishop. The Kerala-based nun has accused the bishop of having sexually assaulted her repeatedly between 2014 and 2016 at a convent run by the Jalandhar diocese in Kottayam district. Mulakkal has, however, dismissed the allegations as "baseless and concocted", insisting he was 'innocent'.

A Christian priest, whose Save Our Sisters (SOS) Action Council has emerged as the platform of various organisations and people who had initially launched the agitation, said the protest was at a crucial stage and insisted that the bishop should be arrested to ensure justice to the survivor nun. "It is in a crucial stage now.

The Bishop has appeared before the investigation... he should be arrested. If he is not arrested, justice will not be done in the case," said Fr Augustine Vattoli, serving under the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church, at the protest venue. The campaign by the nuns has "gone deeper and wider realms" of the Church and the Kerala society, 47-year-old Vattoli claimed. The protesting nuns also expressed hope that the police probing the case would arrest Bishop Franco. "We strongly believe that there are sufficient evidences against Bishop Franco and he will be arrested. It may take some time but his arrest is inevitable," a nun said. She said the protest will continue till he was arrested.

The protesters took to the street alleging that there were attempts to divert the probe into the case. However, those rallying behind the bishop have maintained that the agitation was motivated and questioned whether declaring a person guilty without probe and trial was also a new Kerala model. The Kerala Catholic Bishop Council (KCBC) had slammed the nuns' protest, saying that it has "crossed all limits" and alleged attempts by vested interests and a section of the media to tarnish the image of the church and the bishop community as a whole. The clergyman, in his anticipatory bail plea in the high court, has claimed the allegations against him were a "cooked up story to wreak vengeance" after he initiated action over a complaint against her.

Mulakkal has alleged that the nun had an illicit relationship with a relative and a complaint about it was received by her congregation --the Missionaries of Jesus. Vattoli claimed the protest was growing stronger with activists from various parts of the state joining them and said it had to be taken to the logical conclusion (arrest of the bishop). "The Church in Kerala is witnessing an unprecedented movement that was never witnessed in its history," he said. He hit out at the KCBC for snubbing the movement of its own nuns seeking justice and said it was against the teachings of Jesus Christ. Vattoli said people from different walks of life have expressed their solidarity with the agitation. Even 13 priests from the Syro-Malabar Church of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese visited the venue supporting the cause. He urged the political parties not to ignore the nuns' protest seeking justice to their fellow nun.