NEW DELHI: The Vatican has accepted a request from a bishop in India to be temporarily relieved of his pastoral duties as police questioned him for a second day over accusations that he raped a nun.
In a letter seen by Reuters, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said Pope Francis had received the bishop’s request to be temporarily relieved of his pastoral responsibilities.
The Vatican had accepted the request, the letter said.
The nun from the southern Indian state of Kerala has accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who heads the Diocese of Jalandhar, of raping her repeatedly over a period of two years.
The bishop has not been charged, but has given interviews denying wrongdoing and saying he wanted to defend his name. He wrote to the Vatican on Sunday asking to step down temporarily as protests and calls for his arrest grew in the state.
“Having considered all circumstances, the Holy Father has accepted this request,” the letter said.
The case comes at a time when the Christian community, which accounts for 19 per cent of the state’s population, is reeling under an erosion of trust as sexual abuse cases involving the clergy pile up.
The Catholic Church faces crises worldwide involving sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy.
Meanwhile, the Kerala Police yesterday began questioning Bishop Franco Mulakkal accused of raping a nun for the second consecutive day.
On Wednesday, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Jalandhar, Punjab, was questioned for seven hours near here at the Crime Branch office. He was asked to return on Thursday for further questioning.
Accompanied by his counsel and a few priests, Mulakkal arrived at the Crime Branch office around 11am, even as demands for his arrest grew. Nuns have been protesting in Kochi for 13 days.
The bishop spent the night at a plush hotel in Kochi.
He dodged a large media contingent waiting outside the hotel as he slipped away in a different car while the vehicle used on Wednesday was kept parked outside the hotel.
Like on Wednesday, Inspector General Vijay Sakhre, Kottayam Superintendent Harishankar and his deputy K. Subhash held a meeting at the IG office in Kochi ahead of the interrogation.
The Kerala High Court has already agreed to hear Mulakkal’s anticipatory bail plea on September 25.
A Kerala nun has accused Mulakkal of repeatedly sexually abusing her between 2014 and 2016.
An FIR was registered against the bishop and a 114-page detailed statement was taken from the nun and other inmates of the convent.
Mulakkal was questioned by the police team led by Subhash in August at his Jalandhar office and has denied all the charges levelled against him by the nun.