A Catholic bishop in India’s southern state of Kerala was arrested Friday in the alleged rape of a nun, according to a police official.
Bishop Franco Mulakkal has been accused of raping a nun multiple times between 2014 and 2016 in a case that has drawn widespread attention in India, where it remains rare for members of the church to accuse senior clergy of wrongdoing publicly.
Vijay Sakhare, inspector general of police of Kochi Range, Kerala, confirmed the arrest.
CNN has reached out to Mulakkal’s diocese for comment but has not received a reply. Representatives for Mulakkal told CNN last week the bishop is innocent.
“It is a fake allegation. We are all with the bishop,” the Rev. Peter Kavumpuram, a spokesman for the diocese, told CNN. “There is an anti-Christian movement; people are trying to manipulate the truth.”
The news comes after days of protests by nuns calling for Mulakkal’s arrest.
Police had earlier said they were looking for more evidence before making an arrest.
“After our investigation, we have enough evidence that the bishop, prima facie, has committed the crime,” Sakhare said, adding that Mulakkal, who has not been charged, will appear in magistrate court Saturday.
The Joint Christian Council, an umbrella organization of independent church groups, accused the police of deliberately putting the investigation on a slow track under pressure from church leaders and state politicians.
The 44-year-old nun, who has not been named, first filed a police report in June, accusing Mulakkal of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. She alleged the abuse occurred while Mulakkal was staying in Kerala in a guest house belonging to the St. Francis Mission Home.
Mulakkal is the bishop of Jalandhar, a city in India’s northern Punjab state. His diocese said the bishop was a frequent visitor to Kerala for church-related events.
Earlier this month, an advocacy group filed a petition on behalf of the nun, asking for the immediate arrest of Mulakkal, but the Kerala High Court declined to intervene, saying the delay in bringing charges was understandable given the amount of time that has passed since the alleged abuse.
It was the second time in two months the nun’s supporters had unsuccessfully petitioned the court to intervene, leading to renewed accusations that state politicians and Catholic leaders were working behind the scenes to suppress the case.
The Catholic Church has been battling allegations of sexual abuse around the world, especially against minors, for years. In an unusually blunt letter released last month, Pope Francis acknowledged the church had historically failed to address properly the wrongdoing by priests.
Christianity is a minority religion in India, practiced by 2.3% of the population, according to the most recent census data, but Kerala is home to a sizable Christian community that dates back hundreds of years. The majority are Catholics.
According to recent government figures, the southern state is home to more than 6 million Christians, or 19% of the population. Communities there draw their heritage from Thomas the Apostle, who is traditionally believed to have traveled to India to preach the gospel in the first century.