Protests erupted in Kerala’s Ernakulam district on Thursday as the Kerala Police interrogated Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who is accused of raping a nun, for the second day.

Kottayam Superintendent of Police Harisankar said Mulakkal will be questioned again on Friday and has been asked to appear at 10.30 am. “We have to verify the bishop’s statements before arresting him,” he said. He added that police teams will collect evidence from different places based on Mulakkal’s statements.

Kerala Director General of Police Lokanath Behera told News18 that the investigating team has all the freedom to take any decision on arresting him.

“Though the bishop’s anticipatory bail plea is under the consideration of the court, there are no legal issues to arrest him,” Behera told Mathurbhumi. A final decision in this regard will be taken today or tomorrow, after the probe team completes the interrogation.”

Protests erupted outside the crime branch office in Thrippunithura where Mulakkal was questioned on Thursday, ANI reported. Protestors burned an effigy of the bishop, while members of the Communist Party of India organised a protest march.

Protestors said that the government has let them down by trying to hush up the case. On Friday, five women will start a 24-hour fast in Kochi, said Father Augustine Vattoli, one of the leaders at the protest.

Mulakkal was interrogated for over seven hours at the Thrippunithura police station in Ernakulam district on Wednesday. A five-member team led by Vaikom Deputy Superintendent of Police K Subhash questioning Mulakkal. Kottayam Superintendent of Police Harisankar told reporters on Wednesday that Mulakkal was cooperating.

This is the second time Mulakkal has been questioned since the nun filed the police complaint in June. The Kerala Police had questioned the Jalandhar bishop on August 13 in the city in Punjab.

The case

In June, the police filed charges against Mulakkal after a nun in the Missionaries of Jesus congregation filed a complaint accusing him of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016 in Kottayam. The congregation is based in Punjab’s Jalandhar district but it runs two convents in Kerala – one in Kottayam and the other in Kannur. The alleged abuse took place in Kottayam.

The nun said she had no choice but to go to the police after church authorities ignored her complaints and took no action against the bishop.

On Monday, Mulakkal wrote to Pope Francis, seeking permission to temporarily step down from his responsibilities at the Jalandhar Diocese.

Mulakkal has denied the charges and accused the nun of taking revenge on him for ordering an inquiry into a complaint against her. He filed a complaint against the complainant and five other nuns, accusing them of framing him. The Kerala High Court has deferred hearing Mulakkal’s anticipatory bail plea to September 25.

The Missionaries of Jesus has said its internal investigation found Mulakkal to be innocent. The organisation has also accused the nun of being in a relationship with a taxi driver. The bishop, too, claims that there are “several contradictions” in the evidence collected by the police.

A group of nuns has been protesting against the alleged delay in police action against the bishop.