Sex crimes systematically covered up by the Catholic Church in India – T. K. Devasia

Fr. Vadakkumchery, Kottiyoor, Kannur, Kerala

T. K. DevasiaThe family had refused to file a police complaint against the priest, who held many important positions in the diocese including that of director of the Church-run daily, Deepika, and television channel, Jeevan TV. … The police suspect that the family may have tried to shield the priest after they were bribed by the Church authorities. They also do not rule out … intimidation by the Church. – T. K. Devasia

An anonymous letter received by a child-line in Kerala has brought to light a major operation to cover up the rape of a minor girl by a Catholic priest in the state with 18 percent Christian population.

The police foiled the operation by detaining Fr Robin Vadakkumchery, vicar of St Sebastians Church at Kottiyoor in the state’s northern district of Kannur, while he tried to escape to Canada on 27 February.

The police recorded the arrest of the 48-year-old priest, who allegedly raped and impregnated the 16-year-old girl, on Monday and a case slapped against him under section 376 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act.

The priest, who belongs to the Mananthavady diocese of Syro-Malabar Church, one of the three Catholic rites in Kerala, had tried to cover up the incident by taking the girl to a Church-run hospital for delivery and thereafter shifting both the mother and the new-born baby to an orphanage under the diocese.

Iritty Deputy Superintendent of Police Prajeesh Thottathil said the hospital authorities had not reported that the delivery that had taken place three weeks ago to the authorities. He said that a case will be registered against them if they have deliberately hidden the delivery.

The family had refused to file a police complaint against the priest, who held many important positions in the diocese including that of director of the Church-run daily, Deepika, and television channel, Jeevan TV, when Kannur Child Welfare Committee reported the matter to the police following a secret investigation into the information contained in the anonymous letter received by them.The police official, who is heading the investigating team, said that legal action will also be taken against the victim’s parents if they are found to have colluded with the accused in covering up the incident.

Committee chairman Mathew Thelliyil told the Firstpost that their investigation had revealed that the priest had raped the girl, a Class XII student of IJM Higher Secondary School, Kottiyoor, where the priest served as the manager.

The mother of the victim lodged a complaint after initial investigation by the police revealed the crime, but the victim tried to shield the priest by naming her father as the rapist in place of the priest. The father, who is a small farmer, also supported her by owning up to the crime.

The victim identified the actual culprit after the investigating team grilled her. The police suspect that the family may have tried to shield the priest after they were bribed by the Church authorities. They also do not rule out the possibility of intimidation by the Church.

Fr Mathew PerumattikunnelCuriously, the Mananthavady diocese had not taken any action against the priest until the police registered the case against him. Mathew Perumattikunnel, vicar general of the diocese, claimed that the matter had come to their notice only after the police took the priest into custody.

However, the Church activists take the claim with a pinch of salt since the victim had given birth to the child in the Church-run hospital and the mother and the new-born baby were protected in an orphanage under the diocese. Moreover, the priest had announced during the mass on Sunday that he was going on leave.

Ex-Priest K.P. ShibuEx-priest Shibhu Kalamparampil, who was defrocked after he exposed the sexual abuse and corruption in the Church in his autobiography, said that it was difficult to believe that the victim and her family had tried to shield the priest without the knowledge of the higher authorities in the Church.

“I strongly believe that the family may have tried to hush up the rape after pressure was mounted on them from top echelons in the Church. A priest alone will not be able to cover up such a serious crime,” he said adding that the Church has been mostly silencing the victims of sexual abuse by threatening God’s wrath.

“Many believe this and never report incidents of sexual abuse to the authorities. This has been encouraging priests to continue with their immoral activities. The bishops turn a blind eye as it will affect the very survival of the Church,” said the ex-priest who described the nunneries as brothels in his autobiography titled Oru Vaidikante Hrudayamitha (Here is the Heart of a Priest).

Those who question this will not be able to continue in the Church. A nun, who had complained of unwanted sexual advances by the priest while she worked as a teacher in Madhya Pradesh in 2011, was thrown out. When she refused to leave, the Church silenced her by giving her a compensation of Rs 12 lakh.

Sister JesmeAnother nun, Sister Jesme was forced to quit the religious life of over three decades after she resisted sexual advances against her from priests. After quitting the Mother of Carmel Congregation in 2007, she revealed the gross sexual abuse of nuns by the priests in her autobiography, Amen.

Shibhu said nuns were silently suffering the abuse as they had no place to go after quitting the nunnery. Priests and nuns quitting the religious life are not accepted by their families or the society as they consider leaving the vocation as a sin.

There has been a rise in sexual offences involving priests in the state in the recent months. Rector of a Catholic seminary in Kannur district was arrested by the Iritty police in October last year for the alleged sexual assault on a 21-year-old seminarian who was undergoing training under him at the institution.

In January this year, a 65-year-old priest, who was working as principal of a school at Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district, was arrested for abusing an 11-year-old [boy] in the school dormitory.

Edwin FigarezIn December last year, a Catholic priest was sentenced to double life imprisonment under Pocso Act for the rape of a teenage girl. The priest, Edwin Figarez, had raped the victim many times while serving as the priest in a local church under Kottappuram diocese during 2015.

In August last year, another Catholic priest was arrested for allegedly raping and murdering a college student in Palakkad district. Four other clergymen, including a bishop were arrested for allegedly covering up the case.

Reji Njallani, who has launched an association to champion the cause of ex-priests and nuns, said that sexual abuse cases involving priests and nuns were showing an increase in the state as they are finding it difficult to maintain celibacy.

He said that the situation was alarming in the Syro-Malabar Church, which is the largest Catholic rite in Kerala. Reji told the Firstpost that a large number of priests and nuns in the Church have been demanding right to marry. This, he believes, may solve the problem to a great extent.

“This is not a difficult matter since the Syro-Malabar Church is an independent Church that is free to take a decision on crucial issues without the approval of Vatican. Seventeen out of 22 independent Catholic churches in the world have allowed the religious people to marry,” he pointed out.

He said Catholic priests in Kerala were allowed to marry until the 16th century, when the Portuguese took control of a major section of the Church. The bishops who are now trying to take the Church to pre-Portuguese days are silent on the marriage of priests as they consider celibacy as a sign of superiority over other religions.

Reji said the Association of Catholic Priests, ex-Priests and Nuns will float an open church to attract priests and nuns who are suffocated with the life in the established church. The priests joining the open church will be able to perform all priestly duties, including administration of the sacraments. Reji hopes that this will force the established Church to undertake reforms need by the changing times and solve the ills plaguing it. – FirstPost, 1 March 2017

» T. K. Devasia is a freelance journalist with about 30 years experience currently contributing to Khaleej Times, Reuters and Free Press Journal.

Cardinal George Alenchery and Pope Francis

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One Response

  1. ‘Kerala priest raped, because of temptations’, Church-backed magazine resorts to victim blaming – Neha Vashishth – IndiaToday – March 6, 2017

    “Consumerism and temptations” are the reasons why a 16-year-old girl from Kerala got raped. As much absurd this sounds, these are the reasons given by a magazine backed by a Catholic Sabha, resorting to openly blaming and shaming the rape survivor, a minor.

    People behind the magazine forgot she DID NOT ASK FOR IT and NO-ONE ASKS FOR IT.

    Father Robin or Mathew Vadakkancheril of St Sebastian church in Kannur, Kerala was accused of raping and impregnating a minor. He fled the scene, but was arrested for the heinous crime.

    The minor was raped several times before she got pregnant. After she delivered the child at a private hospital, the newborn was taken to an orphanage without informing the girl.

    But Sunday Shalom, a Christian weekly, said that the rape could have been stopped by the minor. The weekly said, “Here, the girl is above the age of 15. Let me tell you this, as I consider you like my daughter – you are also at fault. Before the Lord, it is you who will have to answer first. Daughter, why did you forget who a priest is? He has a human body and has temptations. He may have forgotten his position for a few seconds, my child who has taken the Holy Communion, why didn’t you stop or correct him?”

    Let us remind and would ask all those who are reading this to repeat after us – NO ONE ASKS FOR RAPE.

    Eight people are involved in the case including five nuns, a doctor and a helper, along with the prime accused Father Robin for hiding the facts and helping in the delivery.

    But this is not the only absurd and illogical remark that was given out regarding the survivor. According to Father Paul Thelekat of the Bishops’ Council, “consumerism” is a reason behind rapes.

    He told The News Minute in response to a query, “consumerism is indeed a situation affecting everyone in the world and priests are also in the world. It is in celibacy and in virginity the crisis become apparent first, then it will become a crisis of fidelity in marriage with extra-marital and premarital sex. Women are presented as commodity both in media and in advertisements and all commodities are marketed with girls and women where human body is dehumanised.”

    Also saying “not all priests” are like Father Robin, Father Paul said, “in India there are 19,946 catholic priests and in Kerala, there are 9,033 of them. What we discuss is a case of failure of a small minority in living the lofty ideal of celibacy. The fact it is a minority does not make the sin and crime minor. The very fact that it gets news value is that it is an exception and a fall from the ideal.”

    Although, the Church is assuring that it stands tall with the rape survivor and her family, it’s disheartening to see how these cases are brushed under the carpet as many involved in such cases are individuals holding great power.

    From a father who thinks women wearing jeans should die to another one who condemned crimes against children on TV but goes on to rape a minor, these priests being referred to as ‘fathers’ is an irony.

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