By Swati Gupta, Manveena Suri and Rhea Mogul, CNN
Updated: Fri, 14 Jan 2022 09:41:36 GMT
An Indian court on Friday acquitted a Catholic bishop of rape charges, a prosecution lawyer said -- in a case that attracted international attention and shocked the country's Christian community.
Prosecution lawyer Sandhya Raju told CNN the court in the southern state of Kerala found Franco Mulakkal not guilty after he was accused of raping a nun multiple times between 2014 and 2016. Prosecutors plan to appeal the verdict, Raju added.
A 44-year-old nun, who has not been named, filed a police report in June 2018. She alleged the abuse occurred while Mulakkal was staying in a guest house belonging to the St. Francis Mission Home in Kerala.
Mulakkal was arrested in September that year and formally charged with multiple crimes seven months later, including rape and wrongful confinement. He denied all the charges.
The case sparked months of protests in Kerala and allegations of a police cover-up. Many nuns in the state joined the protests, breaking a longstanding culture of silence to publicly accuse a church superior of sexual assault.
A group of nuns who spoke against Mulakkal claimed the church attempted to transfer them to other parts of the country, in a bid to silence them.
Christianity is a minority religion in India, practiced by 2.3% of the country's 1.3 billion people, according to the most recent census. But Kerala has a sizable Christian community -- around 18% of the state's population.
The Catholic Church has been battling allegations of sexual abuse around the world, especially against minors, for years. In a 2018 letter, Pope Francis acknowledged the church had historically failed to properly address wrongdoing by priests.