By Malini Menon and Jose Devasia
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Vatican has accepted a request from a bishop in India to be temporarily relieved of his pastoral duties as police questioned him for a second day over accusations that he raped a nun.
In a letter posted on the website of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, its president Cardinal Oswald Gracias said Pope Francis had received the bishop's request to be temporarily relieved of his pastoral responsibilities.
The Vatican had accepted the request, the letter said.
A Vatican spokesman had no comment on the situation in India.
The nun from the southern Indian state of Kerala has accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who heads the Diocese of Jalandhar, of raping her repeatedly over a period of two years.
The bishop has not been charged, but has given interviews denying wrongdoing and saying he wanted to defend his name. He wrote to the Vatican on Sunday asking to step down temporarily as protests and calls for his arrest grew in the state.
The bishop's lawyer was not immediately reachable.
"Having considered all circumstances, the Holy Father has accepted this request," the letter said.
The Vatican typically does not announce temporary changes, only permanent resignations by bishops, after they are accepted by the pope and become official.
The case comes at a time when the Christian community, which accounts for 19 percent of the state's population, is reeling under an erosion of trust as sexual abuse cases involving the clergy pile up.
A group of Catholic nuns launched a rare street protest almost a fortnight ago in Kochi, the state's financial hub, demanding justice for the nun.
The protest has gathered momentum with Christian bodies, activists, writers and locals joining in and notching up demand for the bishop's arrest.
Senior district police official Hari Sankar told reporters that the bishop would be questioned for a third straight day on Friday.
"By tomorrow, we will be able to complete the interrogation," he said.
The Catholic Church faces crises worldwide involving sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy.
(Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in ROME; Writing by Malini Menon; Editing by Euan Rocha and Nick Macfie)