Pope Francis requested the resignation of an Indian bishop acquitted of raping a nun because his case has divided the diocese, the apostolic nunciature in India said Thursday.
The Vatican announced June 1 that Pope Francis had accepted Bishop Franco Mulakkal’s resignation as bishop of Jullundur (Jalandhar) in the Indian state of Punjab, but gave no reason for the 59-year-old’s resignation well before the typical retirement age of 75.
But a June 1 statement from the apostolic nunciature in New Delhi explained that Mulakkal was asked to step down for the good of the Church.
The nunciature said that it respected a civil court’s decision to acquit Mulakkal of all charges on Jan. 14, 2022, as well as an appeal against the acquittal admitted by the high court in Kerala State.
“Given the still divisive situation about the aforesaid matter in the Diocese of Jullundur, 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 diocese which needs a new bishop,” the statement said.
“The present status of the Rt. Rev. Franco Mulakkal is Bishop Emeritus of Jullundur, which does not imply canonical restrictions on his ministry.”
Mulakkal has not been responsible for the day-to-day running of the diocese since September 2018, when retired Bishop Agnelo Gracias was appointed apostolic administrator sede plena et ad nutum Sanctæ Sedis (with the see still occupied and at the Holy See’s disposition).
In a June 1 statement, the 83-year-old Gracias said that the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization had appointed him apostolic administrator sede vacante (with a vacant see) and that he was reappointing the diocese’s vicar generals, episcopal vicars, and other officials.
“We thank Bishop Franco for all that he has done for the Diocese of Jullundur and 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,” Gracias said.
In June 2013, Mulakkal was appointed to lead the Latin Rite Diocese of Jullundur, in northwestern India, serving an estimated 109,000 Catholics.
A nun belonging to the Missionaries of Jesus, a congregation linked to the Jullundur diocese, filed a complaint against the bishop in June 2018, accusing him of raping her during his visits to St. Francis Mission Home in Kuravilangad, in the southern Kerala State, between 2014 and 2016.
Mulakkal claimed that the nun fabricated the allegations in retaliation after he imposed disciplinary measures against her.
In September 2018, nuns called for Mulakkal’s arrest during a public protest in Kochi, Kerala State, which generated widespread media coverage.
That month, the pope accepted Mulakkal’s request to be relieved temporarily of his duties. The bishop was arrested shortly afterward and charged in April 2019.
The trial began in November 2019 and ended with Mulakkal’s acquittal in January 2022.
The Kerala state government and the nun have filed appeals that are pending at the High Court of Kerala.
Mulakkal met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in February this year.
In a video message released after the Vatican confirmed his resignation, the bishop said: “The Holy Father Pope Francis has accepted my letter of resignation as Jalandhar bishop, which I had written after detailed discussions with my superiors.”
“I thank all those who stood by me and prayed for me as I went through a turbulent period over the last few years.”