The nuns who led a protest for the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal of the Jalandhar diocese in connection with the rape of their fellow nun had expressed fear of threat to the lives of those who supported the survivor when the Kerala High Court granted him bail on 15 October.
They suspect that Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, who was found dead in his room attached to the St Mary’s Church at Dasua in Hoshiarpur this morning, may have been killed as he was a key witness in the case. The nuns consider this as a warning to those who are trying to pursue the case.
“We see the death of Father Kuriakose as a clear message to us to keep quiet. He was our strength. He helped us to fight the case and supported us through media,” said the sister of the rape survivor.
She said that the priest had antagonised the bishop by forming a priests’ collective and questioning his wrong deeds. The bishop transferred Father Kuriakose, who was serving as a vicar in a church under the diocese in Punjab, to Dasuya. Father Kuriakose was then posted under a junior priest without any powers.
“We did not expect such a fate to the priest. We don’t know whether it was a natural death or homicide. The circumstantial evidence suggests fouls play. It should be probed at the highest level and the truth brought out,” the nun said.
The family members of the bishop, who belongs to a Syrian Christian family at Poochakkal near Cherthala in Alappuzha district have termed the premature death mysterious. Jose Kurian, younger brother of Father Kuriakose said that he had told us after the bishop came out on bail that he may not live long.
“My brother had talked to me a week before the death. He had expressed fear that something may happen to him. We can’t believe the Punjab Police version that my brother had died due to cardiac arrest. He had no history of heart ailments,” Jose said.
He said that the family had filed a petition with the Alappuzha district superintendent of police seeking a high-level probe and postmortem of the body in Kerala. The SP has forwarded our petition to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
“We hope the Kerala government will intervene in the case and do justice to us. We are going to Punjab tomorrow and decide our future course action after reaching there,” he said.
The family members of Father Kuraikose and the supporters of the rape victim are suspecting fouls play behind the death of the priest as a series of attempt were made by the supporters of the bishop to influence and intimidate the witnesses.
The survivor herself had complained about an attempt to endanger her life. The brother of a priest who is a confidant of the bishop bribed a migrant worker posted at her convent at Kuravilangad to dislodge the brake system and damage the tyre tube valve of a two-wheeler she had been using. The nun had lodged a complaint with the Kuravilangad police in this connection.
Another sister of the survivor had also alleged threats to the lives of her family members from the relatives and supporters of the bishop. A complaint she filed with the Kalady police in Ernakulam district said that she and her family members had received several life threats after her sister filed the police complaint.
“One Thomas Chittuparambil, brother of Father Lawrence Chittuparampil, had threatened to liquidate my son and brother if something happened to the bishop. The people who are close to the bishop are ready to go to any extent to save the bishop,” she said adding that they had sought police protection in view of the constant threats.
The threats to the survivor and her supporters came after the nuns refused to budge under pressure and settle the case by receiving favours. The family members of the victim had claimed that the bishop had earlier through a mediator promised Rs 5 crore to the nun to withdraw the case.
When they rejected the offer, a priest close to the bishop approached the nuns supporting the victim offering them 10 acres of land and a new convent estimated to cost Rs 10 crore to continue their religious life. The police have registered a case against the priest Father James Aerthayil, who belongs to the Congregation of Mother of Carmel (CMC), in this connection.
The bishop’s powers are not limited to people who are ready to do anything for him but extends across the Church and political spectrum. While the Church authorities lent him indirect support by questioning the acts of the nuns, the politicians made a beeline to the jail where he was lodged during his judicial custody.
“The delay in arresting Franco and the bail he got in spite of several complaints about the attempts made by his supporters to influence and intimidate the witnesses speaks volumes of the power he wields. The government has bowed its head before him by not opposing his application for bail,” says George Joseph, president of the Joint Christian Council (JCC), which supported the nun’s stir at Kochi in September.
He said that they were expressing doubt about the death of Father Kuriakose because the bishop is capable of doing anything to save himself and his position. He said that Father Kuriakose had several times talked about the threat to his life ever since he extended his support to the nun.
Advocate Indulekha Joseph of Church Action Council said that the death of the priest would adversely affect the case as he was the main prosecution witness in the case. The statement he had given to the police against the bishop will not hold in the court following the death.
“An accused in such a case would have remained in jail till unless he is acquitted if it was an ordinary person. Nobody expected the bishop to get the bail as the police had arrested him after almost completing the investigation. They were ready to file the chargehseet any time,” the lawyer said.
Actor Dileep, who was arrested for his alleged involvement in the actress abduction case, spent 85 days in jail. The bishop who was accused of raping a nun 13 times was out of jail 20 days after his arrest following a two-month long investigation.
The church activists view this as a clear indication of the fate of the case. The death of the key witness has strengthened their apprehension.
Updated Date: Jan 08, 2019 13:14:48 IST