Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was temporarily relieved of his pastoral responsibilities by Pope Francis in 2018 following allegations of rape by a nun, has resigned from the Jalandhar bishop's post, the Vatican's representative in India said on Thursday.
His resignation, which came one-and-a-half years after he was acquitted by a local court in Kerala last year in the rape case, will pave the way for the appointment of a new bishop to the diocese, a church official said.
In a video, the bishop confirmed that the Holy See accepted his resignation today.
"Today, 1 June 2023, the Holy Father Pope Francis has accepted the resignation submitted by the Rt Rev Franco Mulakkal as Bishop of Jullundur," the apostolic nunciature (top-level diplomatic mission of the Holy See) in India said in a statement.
"In this regard, the apostolic nunciature wishes to specify that the Holy See respects the verdict of the additional district and sessions court, Kottayam, Kerala, acquitting Bishop Mulakkal from the allegations concerning him, as well as the appeal against the acquittal, which has been admitted by the Kerala high court," it said.
The nun, who says she was raped by the bishop, has moved the Kerala high court against the trial court verdict in the case.
"Given the still divisive situation about the aforesaid matter in the diocese of Jalandhar, the resignation has been requested from the Rt Rev Mulakkal not as a disciplinary measure imposed upon him, but as pro bono ecclesiae, especially for the good of the Jalandhar diocese, which needs a new bishop," it added.
The present status of Franco Mulakkal is bishop emeritus of Jalandhar, which does not imply canonical restrictions on his ministry, the apostolic nunciature said.
In the video, Mulakkal thanked those who stood with him during his difficult time.
"May our sufferings and pains and the tears I have shed before the almighty be the reason for the renewal of the church, the strengthening of faith, my own sanctification, and the glory of God," the bishop said.
A church source said the Vatican has informed the bishop that his resignation is not going to be treated as a disciplinary action against him.
Considering his service to the diocese, the church will make sure that it is not an unceremonious exit for the bishop, and he will be permitted to bid an official farewell, the source told PTI.
The source also said that although Mulakkal is bishop emeritus of Jalandhar, he will not be staying in the diocese.
He will be staying in a retreat centre in Kottayam, Kerala, till the high court gives its verdict in the appeal filed by the nun against the trial court verdict in the rape case, the source added.
Meanwhile. in a message to the priests, nuns and the lay faithful, apostolic administrator of Jalandhar diocese Bishop Agnelo Gracias thanked Bishop Mulakkal for all that he has done for the diocese.
"...we express our appreciation for his decision to resign for the good of the Church and of the Diocese, thereby paving the way for the appointment of a new bishop," it said.
Mulakkal had met the Pope on February 8 this year, and it was his first meeting with the pontiff after being acquitted by the additional district and sessions court I, Kottayam, in the rape case.
In September 2018, the bishop was temporarily relieved of his responsibilities of the diocese by Pope Francis after Mulakkal was questioned by Kerala police over rape charges levelled by a nun.
Despite being acquitted by the local court in the sensational case, Mulakkal was not given any new responsibilities in the church.
The Vatican had earlier accepted the court's judgment that acquitted him of the charges of raping a nun.
The nun had accused Mulakkal of raping her multiple times during his visit to a convent in Kottayam in Kerala between 2014 and 2016, when he was the bishop of the Jalandhar diocese in Punjab.
The nun is a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under the Jalandhar diocese.