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Bishop Franco Mulakkal Case : Why Court Found Nun's Testimony Unreliable?

Hannah M Varghese
15 Jan 2022 11:59 AM GMT
Bishop Franco Mulakkal Case : Why Court Found Nuns Testimony Unreliable?
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The Additional District and Sessions Court Kottayam on Friday morning acquitted Bishop Franco Mulakkal who was accused of raping a nun from the Missionaries of Jesus convent in Kuravilangad. The survivor had alleged that Franco, a Bishop of Catholic Diocese at Jalandhar, raped her 13 times during his visits to the convent between 2014 and 2016.The judgment, which runs into 289...

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The Additional District and Sessions Court Kottayam on Friday morning acquitted Bishop Franco Mulakkal who was accused of raping a nun from the Missionaries of Jesus convent in Kuravilangad. 

The survivor had alleged that Franco, a Bishop of Catholic Diocese at Jalandhar, raped her 13 times during his visits to the convent between 2014 and 2016.

The judgment, which runs into 289 pages, has cited several reasons for the acquittal, but it primarily points to a lack of evidence against the bishop except for the nun's testimony.

The verdict further doubted the credibility of the nun's testimony on the ground that it was suffered from deviations, exaggerations and embellishments.

Keep reading to find out why the Court found the nun's statements unreliable enough to let Mulakkal walk scot-free:

Why Did The Court Find Her Testimony Unreliable?

Although there were several grounds cited by the Court to point at the lack of prosecution evidence to prove the former Bishop's guilt, the survivor's 'uncorroborated inconsistent version' of the incident was the most vital element of the judgment which favoured Mulakkal.

  • The Court recorded that in her initial revelations, the allegation was that the accused was forcing her to "share a bed" with him. No allegations of rape or sexual violence were raised then.
  • She did not mention in the dispensation letter dated 26.05.2017 that she was subjected to sexual violence.
  • It was also noted that her version to Bishop Kurain Valiyakandathil was that the accused was taking retaliatory measures for not "sharing the bed" with him and not that she was raped or subjected to sexual violence.
  • Similarly, in the letter sent to Cardinal Mar George Alenchery, her grievance was that she could no longer tolerate the dealings of Bishop directly and through phone calls and messages with wrong intentions. Her case was that the accused used vulgar words with sexual tones in the messages sent to the sisters. She specified in the letter that she cannot reveal the matter in detail and that she wanted to meet him to discuss her struggles. But upon meeting, she apparently did not disclose that she had been abused sexually by the accused. 
  • In her letter to the Cardinal Marc on May 14, 2018, her version was that the accused abused her for the first time on May 5, 2014, and that the abuse continued several times. But it was not specified that she was raped on 13 occasions.
  • In a complaint given to the District Police Chief, her version was that an offence under Sec.376 IPC was committed against her. No other detail was communicated apart from this, the implication being, there was no explicit mention of rape as such.
  • In the FIS, she did not disclose penile penetration. Her version was that the accused inserted his fingers into her vagina and that he attempted to thrust his sexual organ into her mouth and that she was forced to hold his sexual organ. The survivor clarified that she had no trust in the woman police officer and that the statement was recorded in an unsecured environment. Both explanations were later proved incorrect. 
  • Her original version before the doctor was that there was no history of penetrative sex. However, subsequently, that entry was struck off. Even in another portion of the history narrated to the doctor, there was no allegation of penile penetration.
  • In her additional statement and Sec.164 statement, her version was that she was subjected to forcible sexual intercourse including penile penetration on 12 occasions and that there was only fingering on the first occasion.
  • The series of e-mails, photographs and visuals produced as evidence show that she kept close interactions with the accused on days immediately following the alleged sexual violence.
  •  Going by the survivor's testimony, after she told the accused that she would not permit him to come to the convent, the accused never came over. After reaching Kerala on January 24, 2017, he only messaged her that he was passing through Kuravilangadu. Therefore, her version does not go in tandem with the projected case of the prosecution that the accused was using all sorts of threats to make her yield to his sexual desires.
  • The messages claimed to have been sent by the accused in response to the nun's stand that she will not permit him to stay in the convent gives an insight into the nature of the relationship between them. The messages he sent were: 'with a heavy heart I am joining your decision'. 'I want to see you, I want to need you, call me'. No threat or intimidation or force is revealed from these messages.
  • It is proved from the nun's evidence and other statements that the accused had no role in the complaint preferred by the survivor's cousin Jaya alleging that the survivor had an illicit relationship with her husband. Therefore, the enquiry ordered by the accused on Jaya's complaint cannot be regarded as a retaliatory measure.
  • Cardinal Mar George Alencherry deposed that the survivor wanted to join Syro Malabar Church and he advised her that her request would be considered after she comes out of M.J Congregation, and this was admitted by the nun herself.
  • Her testimony strengthened by the statements given by her inmates and the Mother Superior proved that they had placed some demands before the church, including a demand that the convent shall be placed under the diocese of Bihar and that they were ready to settle all issues if their demands were met. The complaint carrying rape allegations was filed after their demand was rejected.

According to the Court, these inconsistent versions questioned her credibility.

"This is a case in which the grain and chaff are inextricably mixed up. It is impossible to separate the grain from the chaff. There are exaggerations and embellishments in the version of the victim. She has also made every attempt to hide certain facts. It is also evident that the victim was swayed under the influence of others who had other vested interest in the matter."

Other Instances That Swayed The Court's Decision Towards Acquittal: 

According to the Court, the prosecution had failed to produce any relevant mobile phones despite the entire case being built around obscene messages sent by the accused to the survivor and the message forwarded by the nun to Jaya, her cousin.

Additionally, the enquiry report of the three-member committee shows that she maintained a very close relationship with the accused. In fact, she was the chief adviser of the Bishop in all appointments and sometimes those appointments were made overruling the decision of the General Council.

Further, the Court noted that the entries in the chronicle indicate that she had travelled long distances with the accused in his car and had attended many functions on almost all days following the alleged forceful sexual violence. Sister Liyona, who had travelled with her on some of those occasions had no hint about the sexual violence either from her interaction with the accused or from her interaction with others. 

Although delay in lodging the first information report cannot be used as a ritualistic formula for doubting the prosecution case, the Court noted that the alleged incidents of sexual violence started in 2014 and continued till September 23, 2016. Yet, the matter was disclosed only by the end of 2016. Despite its attempts to explain the delay, no satisfactory explanation was given for the same. On the other hand, there were sufficient circumstances to prove that the nun started complaining about the sexual abuse and sexual overtures of the accused after the commencement of the enquiry ordered into Jaya's complaint.

The report of the three-member committee also revealed that the nun, her companion sisters and their family members shouted and abused the committee members, including an attempt for physical assault. The report also confirmed that there was infighting among the members of the convent. 

For the said reasons, the Court deemed it fit to declare Franco Mulakkal not guilty of raping the nun and acquitted him of all charges. 

Click here to read/download the judgment

Also Read : Why Bishop Franco Mulakkal's Acquittal In Nun Rape Case Is Flawed?


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