Around 2pm, on Tuesday (October 16), Bishop Franco Mulakkal, came out to a rousing welcome by his supporters who were waiting patiently to ‘receive’ him outside the Pala sub-jail premises in central Kerala.
The rape accused Bishop was granted conditional bail by the Kerala High Court after 24 days of incarceration on Monday, and was released from prison the following day. Among those waiting to receive the Bishop was independent MLA PC George. Some of the Bishop’s supporters instinctively fell on their knees to say their prayers upon sighting him.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal was granted conditional bail by the Kerala High Court after 24 days of incarceration. (Credit: PTI file photo)
Prominent lawyers and neutral observers believe it was rather unusual for a person with his sphere of influence to be granted bail in such a short span. Sister Anupama, representing the nuns who sat in protest against the inordinate delay in the arrest of the Bishop, termed the development unsettling and unnerving and expressed her apprehensions following the release of the Bishop.
The Save Our Sisters (SOS) action council, which supported the nuns in their agitation, alleged the position taken by the prosecution lawyer that the trial was at an advanced stage and was relied by the High Court to grant bail to the accused.
The fear of the nuns and others doesn't seem unwarranted. Even during the Bishop’s absence, his PR machinery — led by the Jalandhar Diocese’s PRO, Fr Peter Kavumpuram — was working in full swing. Some of the WhatsApp messages doing the rounds on social media, in the name of the PRO, allegedly had slanderous and baseless accusations against the complainant nun.
Now that the Bishop is out on bail, it doesn't seem inconceivable for him to influence the case. It is already a matter in record — parallel cases have been registered — that the Bishop had allegedly tried to influence, intimidate and bribe the nuns through his cronies.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal was arrested only after several days of protests by nuns. (Photo: PTI/file)
Just a day before the high court hearing, a rosary procession was taken out in Bishop Franco’s support in the Jalandhar diocese on Sunday evening — where, a message of the Bishop-in-charge, Bishop Agnelo Gracias, was read out. The Bishop had stayed away, citing prior commitments and the message read out on the incumbent Bishop’s behalf said he wanted Franco Mulakkal to come back soon after getting justice in the case. Although the programme was technically organised by a laity association, it had the backing of the diocese, with priests and nuns attending it.
And in Kerala, the Church has been closing ranks behind Franco Mulakkal as Bishops and Church-backed politicians made a beeline to the Pala sub-jail in the interim. The Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC) had released yet another circular, this time, by the president of KCBC, Archbishop Susaipakyam himself.
Yet again, it betrayed the ignorance of the Church on gender, patriarchy, law and everything else. While the Archbishop claims to be unaware of the nun’s complaint even at this stage “as the KCBC did not receive any direct complaint from the nun”, he continued to maintain the public protest by the nuns was against the Church. The circular also says he was pained to see politicians, activists and cultural icons backing the protest of the nuns.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Federation of India, a laity organisation based in Changanassery, had threatened to launch a protest against the nuns for staying put in the Kuravilangad convent illegally. It was interpreted as a pressure tactic to dissuade the nuns from going on a second phase of protest.
Fr Nicholas Maniparambil, the Parish Priest of the complainant nun, too landed up at the Kuravilangad Convent with a driver — later identified as a murder accused — to allegedly try and influence the nuns.
The priest had initially supported the nuns, but had a mysterious change of heart later. Although the priest feigned ignorance of the criminal antecedents of his driver following the revelation, can his clarification be taken at face value, especially after the charge made by the nuns that he tried to influence them?
The bail given to Franco Mulakkal makes the nuns further vulnerable to the considerable clout wielded by the Bishop. A Malayali priest from Jalandhar diocese, who preferred to remain anonymous, likened the Bishop and the empire he has built to a “syndicate”.
Of course, there are others that liken him to a “revolutionary” — like those who turned up for the rosary procession in Jalandhar.
After the Kerala floods, the Sabarimala case has taken the attention of the media away from this case.
One can only hope the investigation doesn’t lose pace and the chargesheet is filed at the earliest for the trial to commence sooner than later.