Catholic nuns hold placards demanding the arrest of a bishop who one nun has accused of rape, during a public protest in Kochi, Kerala, India, Sept. 12, 2018.
Catholic nuns hold placards demanding the arrest of a bishop who one nun has accused of rape, during a public protest in Kochi, Kerala, India, Sept. 12, 2018.

NEW DELHI - Indian authorities charged a Roman Catholic bishop on Tuesday with repeatedly raping a nun in her rural convent, a case that helped make the sexual abuse of nuns a major issue in the church.

Bishop Franco Mulakkal was charged with rape, illegal confinement and intimidation, said Hari Sankar, a district police chief in the southern state of Kerala, India's Catholic heartland.

Nuns who have supported the accusation of rape against Bishop Franco Mulakkal leave after offering prayers at a chapel in St. Francis Mission Home, in Kuravilangad in southern Indian state of Kerala, Nov. 4, 2018.
India’s Hidden Years of Nuns Abused by Priests

The stories spill out in the sitting rooms of Catholic convents, where portraits of Jesus keep watch and fans spin quietly overhead. They spill out in church meeting halls bathed in fluorescent lights, and over cups of cheap instant coffee in convent kitchens. Always, the stories come haltingly, quietly. Sometimes, the nuns speak at little more than a whisper.

Across India, the nuns talk of priests who pushed into their bedrooms and of priests who pressured them to turn close friendships into sex.

The nun who made the accusations, who has not been publicly identified, said she went to police last year only after complaining repeatedly to church authorities. Eventually, a group of fellow nuns launched unprecedented public protests to demand Mulakkal's arrest. He was arrested but released after a few weeks.
 
Mulakkal was the official patron of the nun's community, the Missionaries of Jesus, and wielded immense influence over its budgets and job assignments. The nun said the rapes occurred between 2014 and 2016.
 
Mulakkal has denied the accusations, calling them "baseless and concocted" and saying the accusing nun was trying to pressure him to get a better job.

FILE - A woman reaches to touch Pope Francis during an audience at the Vatican, Nov. 30, 2018.
Pope: Women Have 'Legitimate Claims' for Justice, Equality

Pope Francis said in a document released Tuesday that women have "legitimate claims" to seek more equality in the Catholic Church, but he stopped short of endorsing recent calls from his own bishops to give women leadership roles.

In the text, Francis also told young adults they should try to help priests at risk for sexually abusing minors in what a Vatican official said was a great act of trust the pope has for today's youth to help "priests in difficulty."

Francis issued the document, known as an apostolic exhortation, in response to an October 2018 meeting of the world's bishops on better

In February, Pope Francis for the first time publicly acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops.
 
Speaking to reporters aboard the papal plane, Francis vowed to confront the problem. "Should we do something more? Yes. Is there the will? Yes. But it's a path that we have already begun," he said.
 
The Mulakkal case has divided India's Catholic community, with many people defending the bishop.
 
In March, the founder of the Vatican's women's magazine, along with the magazine's all-female editorial board, quit their positions, saying a Vatican campaign to discredit them had increased since they denounced the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops.