Pope Francis on September 20 appointed Retired Auxiliary Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias of Bombay as the temporary administrator of Jalandhar diocese in the absence of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who is now in Kerala facing a sexual abuse case.
“Our prayers accompany Bishop Gracias as he takes on this responsibility,” says a press release from Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India announcing the appointment.
The Vatican acted on Bishop Mulakkal’s on September 16 request to the Pope for temporary relief from his episcopal ministry.
The appointment was announced as Bishop Mulakkal, 54, was undergoing the second day of questioning by police at a high tech police station in Thripunithura, some 10 km east of Kochi, Kerala’s commercial capital.
He was accused by a member of the Missionaries Charity, a diocesan congregation under the diocese of Jalandhar, of subjecting her to rape and unnatural sex for 13 times during 2014-2016. The nun filed the case on June 28 in Vaikom, a town in the Kottayam district of Kerala.
The bishop has denied the charges, calling them “concocted” and said the nun holds a vendetta against him after he had initiated disciplinary action against her.
Bishop Gracias, 79, thus becomes the apostolic administrator of the diocese of Jalandhar “sede plena et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis.” The Latin term which refers to any circumstance involving a conflict of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, where Rome decides to take the matter under its jurisdiction and reserves to itself the right to make a final judgment on the matter.