The trial court in Kerala that acquitted former bishop Franco Mulakkal, who had been accused of repeatedly raping a nun, has held that the woman’s statement was “inconsistent” and it posed questions on her credibility, reported PTI.

An additional sessions court in Kottayam had acquitted Mulakkal on Friday. In his 289-page verdict, the judge said the nun’s claim that she had been raped on 13 occasions under duress cannot be relied on the basis of her solitary testimony.

In June 2018, the nun who filed the complaint had claimed that she was sexually abused by Mulakkal between 2014 and 2016, when he was the bishop of the Jalandhar diocese of Roman Catholic Church. Meanwhile, Mulakkal had accused the nun of seeking revenge for ordering an inquiry into a complaint against her. He was removed from his post after the allegations.

In his verdict, Judge G Gopakumar of the Kottayam court held that the nun cannot be categorised as a “sterling witness” due to the inconsistencies in her statement, reported The Telegraph.

The judge said that it was “hard to believe” the nun’s “explanation that she could not disclose [the instances of rape] in the presence of her companion sisters.”

Referring to the cross-examination report, the judge said that although “it is revealed to the doctor that there were 13 episodes of sexual assault, there is no mention of penile penetration”, reported The Indian Express.

The report, however, had said that Mulakkal had touched the nun’s genitals and forced the complainant to touch his genitals. After a 2013 amendment to the law on rape, all these instances classify as rape, while the old law had limited its definition to non-consensual penile penetration.

In his verdict, the judge also questioned the conduct of the woman.

“She chose to return to the convent along with the accused, that too after being subjected to rape previous night,” the verdict said. “According to her the vow of chastity had haunted her after every abuse. After every rape, she pleaded for mercy. In the said circumstances these journeys and close interaction with the accused definitely undermines the prosecution case.”

In another instance in his order, the judge questioned how there were no witnesses to the alleged sexual assault. He said that while the nun had claimed that there was struggle during the assault, she had also contended that her voice did not come out.

“The evidence of PW38 [Prosecution Witness 38] shows that the room had a ventilation opening,” he said. “Other rooms were also there on the same floor. Of course, prosecution contends that the other rooms were remaining vacant. But there is no evidence to show that the other rooms were remaining vacant, on all the 13 days of sexual violence.”

The judge also said that the prosecution had failed to produce the mobile phones of the complainant even though the entire case was “built around some obscene messages” sent by the accused person to her phone.

“The messages claimed by PW1 [nun] to have been sent by the accused in response to her stand that she will not permit him to stay in the convent gives an insight into the nature of relationship between the accused and PW1,” the court said.

The court said the message sent by Mulakkal to the nun did not reveal any threat or intimidation.

The verdict said: “The message of the accused going by the section 164 statement of the victim was that ‘with heavy heart I am joining with your decision’. ‘I want to see you, I want to need you, call me’. No threat or intimidation or force is revealed from these messages.”

The judge also agreed to Mulakkal’s counsel’s arguments that the former bishop had “enemies within the church” who used the complainant as a scapegoat to target him.

“Defence relies on the evidence of PW12 to prove that a rival group was working against the accused,” he said. “PW12 in his cross-examination claims that the accused was ordained as a Bishop at the age of 44 years. According to him, the retirement age of a Bishop is 75 years. If the accused could continue as the Bishop, he may become a Cardinal or may even reach a higher position.”

Meanwhile, the Kerala government has decided to file an appeal against the court verdict acquitting Mulakkal.

The prosecution has contended that the Kottayam Additional Sessions Court had rejected the statements all of its witnesses as “unbelievable” on minor grounds. It has also said that the verdict appeared to suggest that the act was consensual, which even Mulakkal had not claimed.