Bengaluru: The Kerala police have decided to summon Catholic bishop Franco Mullakal, booked for raping a nun in June, amidst mounting pressure from a street protest of nuns that has triggered a popular outrage against the clergy and the ruling Left government across the country.

The bishop will be summoned on 19 September, a decision that was taken in a meeting of investigative officers and high-level cops on Wednesday, Press Trust of India reported. The case shot to the national spotlight when five nuns, colleagues of the rape-victim, hit the streets in Kochi on Saturday in a first of its kind open protest against the clergy and the state. Despite over two months of investigation, the bishop was not arrested, because of his influence over the clergy and politicians, the nuns had alleged.

The development comes at a time when the Catholic church is grappling with a growing global debate on priestly sexual abuses. Separately, in an unprecedented move, Pope Francis summoned top Catholic officials across the globe to discuss the escalating sexual abuse scandal plaguing the church in Vatican from 21-24 February, news agency Reuters reported on Wednesday.

The rape victim nun from Kerala had written a letter to the Vatican this week, detailing what she sees as the harrowing sex abuses from priests on nuns and the systematic attempts to silence the victims within the Catholic church in India. “There are many sisters and women who are suffering silently without having the capacity to resist sexual abuse from people from whom they expect respect and care," the nun said in the letter addressed to Giambattista Diquattro, the papal envoy to India.

Meanwhile, the street protest, where the nuns and others are taking turns on fasting, received wider public support as well as lent signals of creating a polarised debate on Wednesday. Social media has erupted in support of the nuns, as well as a wide section of the public, but the Catholic church has come out strongly backing the priests.

Noted writers like Balachandran Chullikad, women actors, opposition politicians, among others, in Kerala have joined the nuns on the fasting venue. Similar protests have erupted in cities like Thiruvananthapuram. The Kerala Region Latin Catholic Bishops’ Council, the regional episcopal body of the Latin Church, also came out in support of the nuns and asked the bishop to step down.

But, slamming the protest, a senior priest and auxilary bishop of Changanassery Archdiocese, Thomas Tharayil, sought to know whether declaring a person guilty without an investigation and trial was also a new Kerala model, news website Manorama Online reported on Wednesday. In a circular on Wednesday, a major association of Catholic nuns, Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (CMC), prohibited its members from participating in the protest. The accused bishop himself had come out against the protesting nuns while speaking to television reporters from Delhi on Tuesday. He said that the complainant is blackmailing him and the protest is part of a conspiracy to malign the church.

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