OVER A dozen photographs of various Catholic saints adorn a weather-beaten wall of this small, three-room, tiled house on a hill at Kottiyoor in Kannur. “Children are a gift from God,’’ reads a Biblical verse scribbled over one image. This is the home of the girl who delivered a baby last month after being raped, allegedly by a priest at the local parish. Where a grieving mother laments the “disgrace” that has tainted the family. And where a heart-broken father had to falsely admit that he had raped his own daughter to “protect the priest and the Church” in what is now being described as the worst sex scandal in the history of Kerala’s Catholic establishment.
Last week, police arrested Fr Robin Vadakkuncheril, 48, of Mananthavady diocese, on charges of raping the minor in his parish at St Sebastian’s Church in Kottiyoor. On Thursday, a court in Thalassery allowed police custody of the accused through the weekend.
But at this home on a hill, that’s of little consolation to the middle-aged couple and their five minor children. “The priest betrayed our family and our faith in the Church. After my daughter delivered the baby, he wanted someone to take responsibility for the birth. How could I find someone for this job? Finally, I had to falsely state that I was the father of my daughter’s baby. As a believer, I also wanted to avoid the disgrace falling on the priest and the Church,’’ says the father, a farm labourer.
“But I realised the seriousness of the crime after police arrested me as the rapist of my own daughter. They told me that I would be jailed for several years. That was when I revealed the name of the priest,’’ he says. “Robin paid the hospital bill of Rs 30,000 for the delivery and promised to do any penance for his sin. But he betrayed my daughter by trying to escape from India,” says the father, before denying allegations that the family had accepted money from the priest to hush up the rape.
The mother of the girl insists that there was little to suspect in the priest’s behaviour. “On most occasions, there would be women at the parsonage. Those women, once recruited by the priest to study abroad, used to call him ‘papa’. There had been no warning about the priest’s conduct. But unfortunately, our daughter has become a victim,’’ she says.
Police said the priest raped the girl during the summer vacation last May. At the time, she was engaged in entering data in the parish computer, along with some other girls. “There were a few others at the parsonage. But the priest assaulted the girl when she was alone in the building. She was threatened not to reveal the incident to anyone at home or school,’’ says the father.
The family says neither they nor teachers at her school noticed any changes in the girl, who attended class even a day before the delivery. “Her menstrual cycle was irregular, but we didn’t have any doubts about any pregnancy. Otherwise, who would wait until delivery?’’ says the mother.
But the couple say they are still “faithfully loyal” to the Church. “We are part of the Charismatic movement, a reformation movement in the Church. After our fifth child was born last year, we were honoured by the Pro-Life Movement of the diocese, which promotes bigger families,” says the father. As for their daughter, the family says she has been recovering fast. “She has been going to school since Wednesday to appear for her Class 11 examination. She is determined to fight back by focusing on her studies,” says the mother.