Bishop Franco Mulakkal, facing probe after a nun accused him of rape, has handed over administrative responsibility of Jalandhar diocese to a senior priest even as a group of Catholic priests on Saturday extended support to the protest by various Catholic reformation organisations seeking justice for the nun.
In a circular addressed to priests, nuns and brothers of the diocese, the Bishop said, "In my absence Msgr Mathew Kokkandam will administer the diocese as in the normal practice when I am away from the Diocese".
He also requested them to continue to pray for him and for the alleged victim and her supporters who have come out against him "so that divine intervention may bring about change of heart and the truth of the matter may be revealed."
The bishop claimed there were "several contradictions" in the evidence collected against him by the police probing the case.
"I leave everything into the hand of God as I await the result of the findings of the team probing the allegation," he said in the circular, a copy of which was made available to the media.
The circular was issued on September 13, a day after the Kerala Police had asked him to appear before the investigating team on September 19.
The decision to summon the clergyman was taken after a meeting chaired by Vijay Sakhare, Inspector General (Ernakulam range), which was also attended by Kottayam District Superintendent of Police Harisankar and Vaikom Deputy Superintendent of Police K Subhash amid mounting pressure on police to initiate action against Mullakal.
People who are staging protest in Kochi seeking justice for the nun welcomed the development.
"We are happy about his decision. But he still wields wide authority and power (over the diocese). We will continue our agitation till our fellow sister gets justice," said one of the five nuns staging protest in Kochi.
As the protest by various Catholic reformation organisations seeking arrest of Bishop Mulakkal entered eighth day Saturday, a group of Catholic priests visited them, defying the stand taken by a powerful Bishop body, and vowed their support for agitation seeking justice in the case.
The Kerala Catholic Bishop Council had slammed the nuns' protest, saying that it has "crossed all limits".
The KCBC had also 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 under the cover of the protesting nuns and said it was "not acceptable."
Defying the KCBC, the group of priests belonging to the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church visited the protest venue and assured their moral support to the nuns seeking justice in the case.
"We are not here to judge anyone. We wish to see the Church delivering justice to the nuns," a priest told reporters.
The nun had recently sought urgent intervention of the Vatican for justice and demanded the bishop's removal as the head of the Jalandhar diocese, questioning why the church was "closing its eyes to the truth" when she had mustered courage to make public her suffering.
She alleged that Bishop Mulakkal was using "political and money power" to "bury" the case against him.
The nun had accused the clergyman of sexually assaulting her repeatedly between 2014 and 2016.
The bishop had, however, dismissed the allegations as "baseless and concocted", insisting she levelled those as the catholic order had rejected her demand for favours.
Meanwhile, the Kerala police has decided to issue notice to authorities of Jalandhar-based congregation, Missionaries of Jesus, for allegedly flouting the anti-rape law by putting out the photograph of the victim in a press release issued by it Friday.
The congregation had put out the photograph in the release issued to the media to publish the findings of its enquiry commission, which looked into the nun's allegations.