Franco Mulakkal not the first bishop to resign before 75. Here are other controversial resignations

Traditionally, Catholic bishops submit their resignation at the age of 75

Franco Mulakkal Franco Mulakkal | Diocese of Jalandhar

Pope Francis, on Thursday, accepted the resignation of Franco Mulakkal— who had been acquitted by the additional district and session court, Kottayam, in the rape case of a nun in January 2022—as the bishop of Jalandhar. In a video message, Mulakkal said he informed the Pope during a recent meeting about his desire to step down from the post.

However, the statement issued by the Apostolic Nunciature of India, which represents Pope Francis, specifically mentions that the church “requested” his resignation. The statement said the church respects the verdict as well as the appeal against the acquittal which has been admitted by the Kerala High Court.

“Given the still ‘divisive situation’ about the aforesaid matter in the diocese of Jalandhar, the resignation has been requested from the Rt Rev Mulakkal not as a disciplinary measure imposed upon him, but as pro bono Ecclesiae, especially for the good of the diocese which needs a new bishop,” it said.

Traditionally, Catholic bishops submit their resignation at the age of 75. But Mulakkal, who is just 59, will now be the ‘bishop emeritus of Jalandhar’. The church has also made it clear that there will not be any “canonical restrictions on his ministry”.

Mulakkal is not the only Catholic bishop in recent years to resign well before reaching the age of 75. On May 27, the archbishop of the French city of Strasbourg, Luc Ravel, 66, submitted his resignation to Pope Francis, after being accused of authoritarian working style.

In 2022, the Vatican ordered an inspection of Ravel’s actions in the archdiocese. In December 2021, the Vatican accepted the resignation of another French Bishop—Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit—before he reached the age of 75. The 72-year-old archbishop stepped down from his position after he had admitted to an "ambiguous" relationship with a woman in 2012.

A year before that, French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin–who was 69 at the time of his resignation–had to step down for shielding a pedophile priest, Bernard Preynat, who abused dozens of boys.

In March this year, the vice president of the German bishops' conference, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, 72, resigned over "errors made in the handling of clergy sexual abuse cases”. He also cited "increasingly poor health" as a reason for his early resignation. Bode, who was Germany’s longest-serving diocesan bishop leading the Osnabrück diocese since 1995, resigned after a 600-page interim report, prepared by the University of Osnabrück, accused him of negligence.

In May 2018, 34 Catholic bishops in Chile offered their resignation to Pope in the wake of a child sex scandal and cover-up. It was the first time that the entire delegation of bishops in a country offered to resign. The Vatican initially accepted three resignations, including that of the most controversial Bishop Juan Barros Madrid of Osorno, who was 61 when he resigned. Later, two more resignations were accepted by the Pope. Among the five bishops who resigned then, two were below the age of 75.

When Pope Francis visited Chile in January 2018, he had spoken in defence of Barros, who was accused of protecting an abusive priest, Fernando Karadima. Pope’s position was then criticised heavily, and he made a sharp turnabout. A top abuse investigator from the Vatican then visited Chile to look into abuse allegations.

Following this, the pontiff sent an open letter, decrying a culture of abuse and cover-up in Chile’s Catholic Church. He also held a meeting with the country’s bishops in Rome, and all 34 offered to resign after this meeting. 

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