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Bishop Mulakkal temporarily divested of duties, to be grilled again

Last updated on: September 20, 2018 23:18 IST

Priest Franco Mulakkal was on Thursday grilled for more than eight hours by Kerala police over allegations of rape and unnatural sex levelled by a nun and he will be questioned for the third straight day on Friday, police said.

The Vatican has, meanwhile, divested Mulakkal, who was the bishop of the Jalandhar diocese of Missionaries of Jesus despite shedding his administrative role, of his pastoral responsibilities 'temporarily', the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) said.

"We had decided to complete the interrogation today (Thursday). But it could not be completed even after 7:30 pm. Verification is required in matters so far placed before the investigation team and that will be completed by tomorrow (Friday) morning.

 

"Three teams will verify them. So, the investigation will continue tomorrow (on Friday) also. By tomorrow (Friday) we will be able to complete the verification," Kottayam Superintendent of Police Hari Sankar said after the marathon questioning of the priest.

Terming the interrogation as 'positive', he said Mulakkal has been issued a notice to appear before the SIT at 10:30 am.

Sources in the Special Investigating Team probing the case said the interrogation was likely to conclude on Friday.

He was questioned for over seven hours on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, Kerala's police chief Loknath Behera said the decision on whether to arrest Mulakkal will be taken in the next couple of days.

"After examining him only a decision will be taken. Investigating team is examining him. Let us wait. A decision will be definitely taken today (Thursday) or tomorrow (Friday) after the interrogation," Behera told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.

Amid the continued outrage over the alleged sexual assault of the nun, the CBCI said Pope Francis had temporarily relieved him of his pastoral responsibilities, a decision that was welcomed by the protesting nuns who termed the development as the 'first victory' in their fight against the former bishop.

"The Pope appointed Bishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Bombay Agnelo Rufino Gracias as the Apostolic administrator of the diocese of Jalandhar with immediate effect," a CBCI statement said.

The Pope took the decision in response to Mulakkal's September 16 letter offering to 'step aside temporarily' as the bishop of the Jalandhar diocese, Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council Spokesman Fr Varghese Vallikkattu told PTI.

According to the statement issued by CBCI president Cardinal Oswald Gracias, "The Holy Father has received the request of Bishop Franco Mulakkal to be temporarily relieved of his pastoral responsibilities in the diocese of Jalandhar."

"Having considered all circumstances the Holy Father has accepted this request of Bishop Mulakkal and has appointed Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias, Auxilary Bishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Bombay as Apostolic Administrator of the diocese of Jalandhar... with immediate effect," it said.

The group of nuns staging a protest here with representatives of various Catholic reform organisations seeking Mulakkal's arrest and justice for the nun lauded the Pope's decision.

"We are very happy.....the Vatican has finally heard our prayers. It is the first victory in our struggle against the Bishop," a nun said.

More support came in for their agitation from the church, with Fr Augustine Vattoli, convenor of 'Save Our Sisters', criticising the government for the delay in arresting the priest.

"We feel cheated," Vattoli said and warned there would be "uprising" in the streets of Kerala if Mulakkal was not arrested.

Activists of the All India Youth Federation, the students front of the CPI, also held a protest demanding his arrest.

They had also staged a protest Wednesday. Some people burnt an effigy of Mulakkal.

Mulakkal has been accused of repeated rape and sexual assault by the Kerala-based nun of his own religious order, but he has denied the allegations.

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