Pope relieves accused Indian bishop of duty: church officials

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Pope Francis has relieved from duty an Indian bishop accused by a nun of raping her, local church officials said on Thursday, in a high-profile abuse case that sparked protests by clergy angry at police inaction.

Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who has rejected the accusations, had written to the pope requesting he be temporarily relieved of his duties while an investigation was underway.

“Having considered all circumstances the Holy Father has accepted the request of Bishop Mulakkal,” the Catholic Bishops Conference of India said in a statement Thursday.

Another bishop has been appointed temporarily in his stead, the statement read.

The nun first accused Mulakkal in late June of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016.

But police in the southern state of Kerala, home to India’s largest Christian population, did not formally question him until September.

The lack of action provoked outrage and five nuns -- in a rare show of dissent within the Indian Church -- and dozens of supporters staged days of protests.

The alleged victim has also approached the Vatican representative in India to press her case.

Her letter, leaked to Indian media, said Mulakkal was “using political and money power to bury the case”.

Mulakkal has called the whole scandal a conspiracy by those against the Church, and has won backing from his congregation at the Missionaries of Jesus Church.

In July, two priests were arrested for allegedly raping and blackmailing a woman for over 20 years in Kerala.

Sexual abuse by clergymen and the failure of senior Church officials to take action has been one of the biggest scandals facing the Catholic Church in recent years.

Pope Francis issued a letter on sexual abuse to the Catholics around the world in August, expressing the Church’s “shame and repentance”.

Christians -- overwhelmingly Catholic -- are the third-largest religious group in India. Around 80 percent of the country’s 1.25 billion population is Hindu, followed by a sizeable Muslim minority.

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