KOTTAYAM: The Archbishop of New Delhi, Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, has come out in the open demanding a special Church commission to inquire into the sexual harassment charges levelled against Jalandhar diocese Bishop Franco Mulakkal by a nun of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation. Terming the allegation against the bishop as ‘embarrassing and unprecedented in the history of the Church in India,’ he said that the Catholic Church should conduct a proper inquiry along with the civil inquiry. “The Church will not use its influence to impede the civil investigation. The truth should come out,” he told this newspaper in a telephonic interview on Thursday.
He denied receiving a petition from the nun or her brother, who is also a priest under the Jalandhar diocese, regarding the incident. “I have not been asked by the Vatican to conduct an inquiry nor have I the administrative jurisdiction over the Jalandhar diocese,” he said. The nun, who was formerly the Mother-General of the congregation, had alleged in her complaint given to the police that Bishop Franco Mulakkal had sexually abused her in May 2014 at Kuravilangadu, when he came to attend a function and raped her 13 times over the next two years. The nun’s brother had previously claimed that he had orally complained about the activities of the Jalandhar bishop when the archbishop visited the MJ convent at Kuravil-angadu in May this year.
“If a similar incident occurs, it is the Propaganda Fide who should order an inquiry and they will ask the Apostolic Nuncio of Vatican to India to conduct an interview,” the archbishop said. The Archbishop of New Delhi, Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, urged the superior-general of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation and other nuns to tell the truth regarding the allegation.
"If they knew the truth they should not be afraid of anyone to tell it,” he said. The Jalandhar bishop is also the patron of the MJ congregation. The archbishop said that he knew Bishop Franco Mulakkal and had never come across any allegations against him. The archdiocese of New Delhi doesn’t have any administrative jurisdiction over the Jalandhar diocese and he cannot initiate any action. “We are similar in authority like a diocese. Apart from a monitoring capacity, we don’t have any jurisdictional authority over another diocese,” he said.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal, a native of Mattam in Thrissur district, is a member of Syro-Malabar Church. He joined the Jalandhar diocese as a priest in 1990. The New Delhi archbishop was the predecessor of Franco Mulakkal as the bishop of Jalandhar and he quit that post when he was appointed the New Delhi archbishop. Franco, who was the auxiliary bishop of New Delhi, resigned and was appointed as the bishop of Jalandhar on August 4, 2013.
According to the nun, she had complained on several occasions against the Jalandhar bishop to the head of her congregation and to the Church leadership, including the cardinal, against the alleged harassment meted out to her. The brother of the nun said that a complaint was sent to the prefect of the Congregation of Faith at Vatican on May 11 this year on the experiences of the nun. The same complaint was given to Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alenchery in November 2017 and the Apostolic Nuncio to India Giambattista Diquattro in January this year. The archbishop’s statement comes in the wake of the police investigating the nun’s charges and planning to take further action.