Jalandhar bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was acquitted of all charges in a rape case last year, has resigned from his position, apparently at the behest of the Vatican that accepted his resignation letter on Thursday.
Accused of raping a nun multiple times over a period of two years at a convent in Kottayam, Kerala, Franco was acquitted by the trial court in January 2022. The prosecution has since challenged thetrial court’s order in Kerala High Court where the case is pending.
He was relieved of his pastoral duties in September 2018, around three months after the nun lodged a police complaint against him. Franco has since then remained a titular head since the Vatican appointed an administrator in charge of the Jalandhar diocese.
In a statement on Thursday, the Apostolic Nunciature in Delhi clarified that the resignation was “not a disciplinary measure”. But it maintained that it was taken “as pro bono Ecclesiae, especially for the good of the Diocese which needs a new Bishop”.
The Vatican, however, allowed Franco to continue as a Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Jalandhar, a position without any power or responsibilities.
A smiling Franco expressed “happiness” at the decision in a video message in Malayalam circulated on Thursday. “Our dearest Holy Father Pope Francis today accepted my letter resigning from the position of Jalandhar bishop. Let me inform you about this with great happiness and gratitude.”
“I thank everyone who stood by me when I faced overt and covert harm and the consequent problems that I placed at the feet of the cross of our Christ, in the past,” he added.
Franco had visited the Vatican and met the Pope in early February in an apparent bid to win back his powerful position as Jalandhar bishop that he held without any powers.
Franco had spent 29 days in Pala sub-jail in Kottayam after being arrested in September 2018.
Fr. Paul Thelakat of the Syro-Malabar Church (Franco’s congregation) contended that the resignation was asked for by the Vatican. “I am sorry that Bishop Franco had to resign from his bishopric. I think it was a decision from the Vatican,” he said in an email to The Telegraph.
“From the statement of the Pope, it is made clear that this act is for the good of the church. I am relieved that he has taken it in the right Christian Spirit. What happened in the church was a terrible scandal. We could wish for better ways of handling such an issue without it being a monstrous scandal,” he noted.
Shyju Antony, one of the leaders of the Save Our Sisters Action Council, welcomed the Vatican’s decision but pointed out that Franco was functioning without any powers.
“This resignation per se is not a disciplinary action. But the disciplinary in this matter was already taken by limiting his position as a titular head of the diocese,” he told this newspaper.