Kochi/New Delhi: The Catholic Church is likely to take action against Bishop Franco Mullakal, who has been accused of rape by a nun. Even as the court deals with the case as per the law of the land, the Church will proceed with its own action.
Franco cannot be divested of the title of bishop even if he is convicted in the case. Rules and tradition followed by the ancient church do not allow the removal of the status of cleric or that of bishop, which is a high point in the career of a priest.
Neither do church rules ban the title of bishop from being used along with his name.
At the same time, Franco can be asked to stay away from any responsibility in the church, and can be removed from pastoral and administrative duties of the diocese. He had temporarily quit pastoral responsibilities, but still remains head of the diocese. What remains to be seen is whether he will resign on his own, or whether the church will have to seek his exit.
Vatican to probe
The Catholic Bishop's Conference of India (CBCI) had clarified the other day that the Church will proceed with action once the police files its report after completing its investigation. Church sources indicate that the action will be expedited, now that the bishop has been arrested. Indications are that Vatican has already assigned a probe team of its own, though the Church has not been willing to confirm it, as the probe and its report are confidential.
A possible action from the Church against Franco could be his removal as the Bishop of Jalandhar diocese. The church might take action as soon as the trial court announces its verdict, unless he resigns before the judgement is pronounced. The Church could prompt him to accept its plea for resignation. Any disciplinary action will have to be considered only if he doesn't oblige.
Church sources say Franco may not be allowed to stay as a diocese chief even if the court acquits him. Vatican will be inclined to give him a chance to undergo a transformation. He may not be assigned pastoral responsibility in public. A diocese chief in north India was eased out a few years back for violating church rules, and now spends his days in prayer.
In the Catholic church the status of bishop cannot be erased once it is conferred, though it can be stripped in exceptional situations. But that involves procedures launched by the Vatican Holy See, and a final approval of the Pope. A bishop who was caught in a row several years ago in Kerala was removed from pastoral duties and transferred to Rome.