Church scan on abuse, blackmail cry

A church in Kerala has suspended five priests following a believer's allegation that they used his wife's confession - a private sacramental rite - to sexually exploit her.

By K.M. Rakesh in Bangalore
  • Published 27.06.18

Bangalore: A church in Kerala has suspended five priests following a believer's allegation that they used his wife's confession - a private sacramental rite - to sexually exploit her.

The Malankara Orthodox Church, based in Kottayam, has started an internal probe on the priests after a purported recording of a telephone conversation went viral on social media.

In the conversation, the woman's husband is heard narrating her ordeal to another man.

On Tuesday, the husband told reporters in Kottayam he had handed over copies of all related documentary evidence to the church administrators.

Church spokesperson P.C. Elias said the internal probe would be conducted at the respective dioceses of the priests who have been removed from all duties.

Asked if the church had reported the matter to police since the allegation amounted to blackmail and rape, Elias said it was up to the accuser.

"We have a system by which we suspend priests for long periods if found guilty of such serious offences or permanently remove them from the communion," Elias told The Telegraph.

In the 12-minute phone call, the victim's husband says he had stumbled upon how his wife was being sexually abused while filing his sales tax returns in February.

He said he had accessed his wife's email account to download some insurance records when he came across bank account statements on payments made to book rooms in a star hotel in Kochi. When confronted, the woman broke down and revealed how the priests had blackmailed her into submission.

According to the husband's purported narrative, a parish priest had sexually abused his wife before she got married and had continued to exploit her even after her marriage.

Fed up with the torment, she had confessed before a parish priest of her husband's locality in Kottayam. This priest took advantage of the confession - a secret that even the law cannot force anyone to reveal - and started exploiting her sexually.

He clicked pictures of her in an undressed state and shared them with some fellow priests, who too sexually abused her, the husband is heard saying.

All the five priests have completed around five years of service and appear to be in their thirties. It's not clear if the church has also started investigating the priest who had abused the woman before her marriage.

Elias wouldn't comment on what really happened. "These are allegations by one man who does not go to the police. We cannot comment on what is being probed at the diocese level at the moment. We don't know how long it would take to complete the probe. But if they are found guilty, the church will suspend them for many years."

Elias said three of the accused priests belonged to the Thiruvalla diocese, one was from Pathanamtitta and the fifth was from the Delhi diocese. The church has 30 dioceses in the country. "We have never been faced with such accusations," he said.

The state government has not yet commented on the matter. M.C. Josephine, chairperson of the Kerala Women's Commission, did not take calls from this paper.

This is not the first time in Kerala that priests have come under the glare over allegations of sexual abuse.

In February this year, Thomas T., vicar of St. Mathews Church in Kottayam district, was arrested after a Bangladesh-born British woman filed a complaint of rape.

The 36-year-old priest had apparently befriended the 42-year-old woman on Facebook and raped her after taking her to a tourist resort in Kumarakom.

In February last year, Robin Vadakkumchiriyil, a 48-year-old Catholic priest, was arrested for raping a minor girl after she gave birth to his child.

Vadakkumchiriyil was the vicar of St. Sebastian Church of Kottiyoor in Kannur district in north Kerala. Five nuns were among ten others arrested for trying to help the priest by taking the baby to a church-run orphanage.