The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in Kerala on Monday sent five priests on leave after they were accused of blackmailing and sexually abusing a married woman over a few years. The church’s working committee member and priests’ trustee Father M O John said an inquiry panel had been formed to look the allegation against the five priests, who were working with the parishes under four diocese of the Kottayam-headquartered church. One of the priests belong to Delhi diocese of the church.
“The five priests… have been asked to keep away from officiating all priestly duties and function as head of parishes. They are not under suspension. Their fate would be decided only after the inquiry report,’’ said Fr John.
In a letter to the church, the woman’s husband alleged that his wife’s confession to one of the priests, supposed to be kept a secret under church rules, was used to blackmail her. The complainant mentioned eight persons in the letter to the church, but sought action against only the five priests.
In an audio clip, purportedly between the woman’s husband and another official from the church that was leaked in social media a few days ago, the complainant was heard saying: “A priest had abused her (his wife) before the marriage. Later, when she confessed the pre-marital affair, that priest (who heard the confession) exploited her, threatening that he would reveal everything to me. Again, that priest handed over her to another priest, blackmailing her using the photographs.’’
The woman’s husband was also heard saying that he has been facing pressure from even celebrities within the church to withdraw the complaint. Fr John, however, said the complaint did not deserve a police probe. “In the complaint, the husband said one priest had abused his wife 380 times. Then, what they were doing until the figure reached 380. That is why the husband was not keen to move a police complaint,” he said, adding there was no substance in the allegation that the woman was trapped during confession.
He said the woman had a relationship with one of the priests in her teenage years. Another priest had an affair with the woman when he had worked in her parish, while the woman had affair with the third priest during their college days, Fr John said.