Bishop of the Indian city of Jalandhar, Franco Mulakkal, center, leaves after being questioned by police in Kochi, India. Indian authorities charged the 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. (AP Photo/Prakash Elamakkara, File)

New Delhi - Indian police on Tuesday charged a Roman Catholic bishop with repeatedly raping a nun in a convent, officials said.

Pope Francis has already suspended Bishop Franco Mulakkal from office at the bishop's own request.

A nun, in her forties, accused him of sexually assaulting her over a period of two years since May 2014.

Hari Sankar, police chief of Kerala state's Kotttayam district, said the police charge sheet was filed in a trial court in the Pala area.

"He has been charged with rape, illegal confinement, unnatural sex and intimidation under provisions of the Indian Penal Code," Sankar said by phone.

Mulakkal, who faces a maximum punishment of life imprisonment, has rejected the charges.

Nuns and activists held widespread protests after which police arrested him last September. He was granted bail 30 days later.

"The filing of the charge sheet clears the decks for the trial to begin," Sankar said.

The charge sheet includes statements from 83 witnesses, including senior clergy and 25 nuns, said a statement from Save Our Sisters Action Council, a group of members from India's Roman Catholic Church.

The scandal is a major setback for Kerala's Catholic Church which has been dealing with similar cases of sexual abuse in recent months.

The southern state has one of the largest Christian populations in India.

About a fourth of India's Christians live in Kerala, where it is believed that the apostle Saint Thomas established Christianity in AD 52.

Christians comprise about 2.3% of India's 1.3 billion population, according to census data, and more than 70% of them are Catholic.

dpa