Catholic priest held for sexually assaulting student in Kerala

The police said Fr. James Thekkemuryil was booked under IPC Sections 377, 342, 506 (II) r/w 34 of IPC. He was arrested and sent to judicial custody on Tuesday.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Published:October 27, 2016 1:47 am
Vatican's Secretary of State Pietro Parolin poses briefly for pictures before a conference at the Episcopal Conference in Madrid, Spain, Friday, Oct. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza) According to the complainant, the priest started making sexual advances towards him from April last year. (AP photo)

A Catholic priest from Kerala has been arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a seminarian. Fr James Thekkemuriyil (41) holds a licentiate in moral theology and belongs to an Italy-based congregation, the Order of Minimus. Thekkemuriyil was the rector of Daiva Matha Seminary near Iritty in Kannur, but was removed after the complaint surfaced. The victim, now 20, was a student of the seminary, run by the congregation, and reportedly quit the seminary six months ago.

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The police said Thekkemuryil was booked under IPC Sections 377, 342, 506 (II) r/w 34 of IPC. He was arrested and sent to judicial custody on Tuesday. Police are ascertaining whether there are other complaints against the priest, who is from Kannur district. His brothers, Sunni and Joseph, have also been arraigned as accused in the case on charges of allegedly threatening to kill the victim if he failed to withdraw his complaint to the church authorities.

According to the complainant, the priest started making sexual advances towards him from April last year. He had completed higher secondary education at the time. He alleged that during the night, the priest would force himself into the room of the seminarian (one who studies for priesthood) and subject him to unnatural sex.

When the student tried to resist, the priest threatened him and mentally harassed him, according to the complaint. In June 2015, the student went to a seminary in Ranchi for higher studies. But when he visited the seminary at Iritty during Christmas vacations, Thekkemuriyil allegedly again subjected him to sexual abuse. The victim then approached Church authorities, who asked the congregation to take action against the priest. Thekkemuriyil was subsequently removed as rector of the seminary.

The student complained that the priest and his family members approached him to withdraw the complaint. To settle the case, the priest also allegedly met the victim at his house. The victim has alleged that the priest tried to sexually abuse him again in Bengaluru, after which he directly approached authorities at the headquarters of Syro-Malabar Church in Kochi.

After the fresh complaint, the priest’s brothers allegedly took the victim to a lodge and threatened to kill him if he did not give in writing that the complaint against Thekkemuriyil was false.

Reacting to the case, congregation authorities said they would cooperate with the police investigation. “The priest is now under suspension and the dismissal process is going on,’’ sources at the congregation said.