Kerala sexual abuse: Rape of minor girl by priest shows the systemic cover-up of serious crimes by the Church

An anonymous letter received by a child-line in Kerala has brought to light a major operation to cover up the rape of a minor girl by a Catholic priest in the state with 18 percent Christian population.

The police foiled the operation by detaining Fr Robin Vadakkumchery, vicar of St. Sebastians Church at Kottiyoor in the state’s northern district of Kannur, while he tried to escape to Canada on 27 February.

The police recorded the arrest of the 48-year-old priest, who allegedly raped and impregnated the 16-year-old girl, on Monday and a case slapped against him under section 376 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act.

The priest, who belongs to the Mananthavady diocese of Syro-Malabar Church, one of the three Catholic rites in Kerala, had tried to cover up the incident by taking the girl to a Church-run hospital for delivery and thereafter shifting both the mother and the new-born baby to an orphanage under the diocese.

Iritty Deputy Superintendent of Police Prajeesh Thottathil said the hospital authorities had not reported that the delivery that had taken place three weeks ago to the authorities. He said that a case will be registered against them if they have deliberately hidden the delivery.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The police official, who is heading the investigating team, said that legal action will also be taken against the victim’s parents if they are found to have colluded with the accused in covering up the incident.

The family had refused to file a police complaint against the priest, who held many important positions in the diocese including that of director of the Church-run daily, 'Deepika', and television channel, Jeevan TV, when Kannur Child Welfare Committee reported the matter to the police following a secret investigation into the information contained in the anonymous letter received by them.

Committee chairman Mathew Thelliyil told the Firstpost that their investigation had revealed that the priest had raped the girl, a Class XII student of IJM Higher Secondary School, Kottiyoor, where the priest served as the manager.

The mother of the victim lodged a complaint after initial investigation by the police revealed the crime, but the victim tried to shield the priest by naming her father as the rapist in place of the priest. The father, who is a small farmer, also supported her by owning up to the crime.

The victim identified the actual culprit after the investigating team grilled her. The police suspect that the family may have tried to shield the priest after they were bribed by the Church authorities. They also do not rule out the possibility of intimidation by the Church.

Curiously, the Mananthavady diocese had not taken any action against the priest until the police registered the case against him. Mathew Perumattikunnel, vicar general of the diocese, claimed that the matter had come to their notice only after the police took the priest into custody.

However, the Church activists take the claim with a pinch of salt since the victim had given birth to the child in the Church-run hospital and the mother and the new-born baby were protected in an orphanage under the diocese. Moreover, the priest had announced during the mass on Sunday that he was going on leave.

Ex-priest Shibhu Kalamparampil, who was defrocked after he exposed the sexual abuse and corruption in the Church in his autobiography, said that it was difficult to believe that the victim and her family had tried to shield the priest without the knowledge of the higher authorities in the Church.

“I strongly believe that the family may have tried to hush up the rape after pressure was mounted on them from top echelons in the Church. A priest alone will not be able to cover up such a serious crime,” he said adding that the Church has been mostly silencing the victims of sexual abuse by threatening God’s wrath.

“Many believe this and never report incidents of sexual abuse to the authorities. This has been encouraging priests to continue with their immoral activities. The bishops turn a blind eye as it will affect the very survival of the Church,” said the ex-priest who described the nunneries as brothels in his autobiography titled Oru Vaidikante Hrudayamitha (Here is the Heart of a Priest).

Those who question this will not be able to continue in the Church. A nun, who had complained of unwanted sexual advances by the priest while she worked as a teacher in Madhya Pradesh in 2011, was thrown out. When she refused to leave, the Church silenced her by giving her a compensation of Rs 12 lakh.

Another nun, Sister Jesme was forced to quit the religious life of over three decades after she resisted sexual advances against her from priests. After quitting the Mother of Carmel Congregation in 2007, she revealed the gross sexual abuse of nuns by the priests in her autobiography, Amen.

Shibhu said nuns were silently suffering the abuse as they had no place to go after quitting the nunnery. Priests and nuns quitting the religious life are not accepted by their families or the society as they consider leaving the vocation as a sin.

There has been a rise in sexual offences involving priests in the state in the recent months. Rector of a Catholic seminary in Kannur district was arrested by the Iritty police in October last year for the alleged sexual assault on a 21-year-old seminarian who was undergoing training under him at the institution.

In January this year, a 65-year-old priest, who was working as principal of a school at Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district, was arrested for abusing an 11-year-old in the school dormitory.

In December last year, a Catholic priest was sentenced to double life imprisonment under Pocso Act for the rape of a teenage girl. The priest, Edwin Figarez, had raped the victim many times while serving as the priest in a local church under Kottappuram diocese during 2015.

In August last year, another Catholic priest was arrested for allegedly raping and murdering a college student in Palakkad district. Four other clergymen, including a bishop were arrested for allegedly covering up the case.

Reji Njallani, who has launched an association to champion the cause of ex-priests and nuns, said that sexual abuse cases involving priests and nuns were showing an increase in the state as they are finding it difficult to maintain celibacy.

He said that the situation was alarming in the Syro-Malabar Church, which is the largest Catholic rite in Kerala. Reji told the Firstpost that a large number of priests and nuns in the Church have been demanding right to marry. This, he believes, may solve the problem to a great extent.

“This is not a difficult matter since the Syro-Malabar Church is an independent Church that is free to take a decision on crucial issues without the approval of Vatican. Seventeen out of 22 independent Catholic churches in the world have allowed the religious people to marry,” he pointed out.

He said Catholic priests in Kerala were allowed to marry until the 16th century, when the Portuguese took control of a major section of the Church. The bishops who are now trying to take the Church to pre-Portuguese days are silent on the marriage of priests as they consider celibacy as a sign of superiority over other religions.

Reji said the Association of Catholic Priests, ex-Priests and Nuns will float an open church to attract priests and nuns who are suffocated with the life in the established church. The priests joining the open church will be able to perform all priestly duties, including administration of the sacraments. Reji hopes that this will force the established Church to undertake reforms need by the changing times and solve the ills plaguing it.


Published Date: Mar 01, 2017 03:34 pm | Updated Date: Mar 01, 2017 03:34 pm


Also See