A number of Christian priests in Kerala are in the public spotlight at the moment facing sexual assault charges. What are these cases?
Three prominent cases with sexual assault charges against Christian priests in Kerala have come to the fore in the last one month.
First, a married schoolteacher, spurred by the complaint of her husband, has accused four priests belonging to different dioceses of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of blackmailing her over a secret ‘confession’ she made in church a decade ago and sexually assaulting her over the years.
Second, a nun belonging to the Catholic congregation of Missionaries of Jesus in Jalandhar has filed a police complaint against the Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal alleging that he raped and subjected her to unnatural sex 13 times since 2014 at a convent in Kuravilangad. Mulakkal is a native of Thrissur district.
Third, a married woman and mother to two children has filed a complaint with the Kayamkulam police alleging that a priest belonging to the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church raped her inside the church office in 2014 after calling her to discuss a family dispute.
How did the rape case against the four Orthodox priests get reported?
The husband of the victim said he came to know about the abuse in February this year when he noticed a suspicious bank statement about a hotel transaction in his wife’s email inbox. When questioned, his wife narrated a sordid tale of how she was abused over the years by four priests who were blackmailing her over a confession she made in church a decade ago. In her complaint, the victim names Jaise K George of Delhi diocese, Job Mathew and Abraham Varghese of Niranam diocese and Johnson V Mathew of Thumpamon diocese of having raped her over the years. Before filing the police complaint, the victim’s husband had first approached the church who proceeded to first put the priests on leave and then suspended them. It also opened a parallel line of inquiry into the charges.
What is the status of the case?
While the victim and her husband have appeared before the crime branch of the Kerala Police to file detailed statements, the priests have not been arrested yet. Three of them had filed anticipatory bail pleas before the High Court which were rejected by the top court today. Their arrests are likely any day now. The court said since there was prima-facie evidence against the accused, they cannot be offered bail.
How prominent is the Malankara Orthodox church in Kerala? What are its rules for clerical celibacy?
The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, headquartered in Kottayam, Kerala, is believed to have nearly 25 lakh followers around the world. It is one of the two prominent Christian churches in Kerala and owes its origin to the evangelical activities of St Thomas. It has 30 dioceses across the world with majority in India.
Unlike the Catholic Church, which requires all priests to be celibate, in the Orthodox church, a married man can be ordained to become a priest. But he must get married if he chooses to before he gets ordained. Also, in case he is married, he cannot go further up in the hierarchy to become rambans or bishops. Celibacy is a condition for the higher echelons of the church.
What is the status of the case against Catholic Bishop Franco Mulakkal?
The Kuravilangad police have registered a case of rape and unnatural sex against Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal, which comes under the Delhi Archdiocese of the Catholic Church, based on the nun’s complaint. While the nun’s statement has been recorded, the bishop, who has dismissed the allegations as baseless, is yet to be questioned. A team of the Kerala police is likely to go to Jalandhar to question him and if necessary take him into custody. The family of the victim has maintained that despite a complaint to the Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto about the abuse, nothing was done.
Have there been previous cases of sexual assault against Christian priests in Kerala in the past?
Yes, there have been several cases in the past. Last year, a 48-year-old priest Robin Vadakkuncheril of the Mananthavady diocese of the Catholic Church was arrested on charges of raping a minor girl and impregnating her. The case is still under trial.
In 2015, a case was registered against Catholic priest Edwin Figarez for raping a minor girl from the community. The girl was allegedly lured by exploiting her interest in music.
In 2014, a young Catholic priest under the Thrissur diocese had been arrested for raping a nine-year-old girl. The victim was from a poor family.