The Catholic Church in Kerala has faced embarrassments several times owing the string of sexual allegations against priests and clergymen in the recent years. In the latest development, a 16-year-old minor girl from Kannur was allegedly raped and impregnated by a 48-year-old priest who was quite popular in the social circles of North Kerala.
How did the incident unfold?
The victim secretly gave birth to a baby at a hospital run by the church and the newborn was taken to an orphanage without the victim’s knowledge. There was a desperate attempt by the Catholic Church community to cover up the entire issue. The incident came to light only after the Child Welfare officials got a tip-off through an anonymous letter. Even the hospital did not inform the police about the incident.
Prime accused arrested
Though the prime accused Father Robin or Mathew Vadakkancheril, vicar of the St Sebastian church in Kannur, fled the scene initially, he was later arrested by the police for committing the crime under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The accused, who is now in judicial custody, had tried to escape to Canada on February 27.
According to the police reports, the victim’s father, belonging to an economically backwards section, was offered a bribe of Rs 10 lakh to maintain silence.
Who was Father Robin?
Father Robin, a vicar, was one of the most prominent faces of the North Kerala church community. He was a powerful orator and administrator who was actively involved with issues like farmer’s movement. He had opposed two expert committee reports on Western Ghats (Gadgil and Kasturirangan) and later was appointed as the corporate manager of 100-odd schools under the Mananthawadi Diocese. The police suspect Father Robin to be involved in similar other cases as investigations unearthed many similar complaints against the vicar.
The feeble points of arguments put forward by religious body
According to the findings of The News Minute, Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council was unaware of the problem that was brewing in the back. The council has resorted to claiming this to be an ‘exception’ among the 9,033 Catholic priests in Kerala.
In what seems like a ridiculous justification, Father Paul Thelekat of the Bishops’ Council in Kerala has cited “consumerism and temptations” to be the reason why the minor was raped and impregnated allegedly by a priest. “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 extramarital and premarital sex. Women are presented as commodity both in media and in advertisements and all commodities as marketed with girls and women where human body is dehumanised,” he said
Sunday Shalom, a Christian weekly published in Malayalam and English, went on victim shaming the girl without blaming the sexual predator Father Robin. 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?” The magazine added, “there are many people who do good deeds, how come people are not seeing that? Why are not good things said about these people? To ridicule all priests in the name of all mistakes committed by one or two priests is saddening the entire community.”
The magazine didn’t just stop here, it further claimed Father Robin is an ‘aberration’, and wrote, “Even Judas was Jesus’s disciple, today we are walking behind this disciple. Those who need to be isolated should be isolated but let’s not throw mud who have not done any mistakes. We can proud call every priest as a virtue we have earned, allow them to walk confidently in their robes.”
The gravity of the situation
In the last few years, Kerala has seen at least 10 such cases of priests being accused or convicted of child abuse. About three months ago, a parish priest in Ernakulam district, Father Edwin Figarez, was awarded a double life sentence for raping a 14-year-old girl. Then Father Raju Kokkan, a priest in Thrissur district, was arrested last year for allegedly sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl.
Surprisingly, every time any such reports against clergymen come to the surface, the church community always covers up the incidents. Sisters and Nuns, who are members of the community are also raped and abused.
Even after knowing about such instances of sexual abuse, the Church bodies never actually take any stern action against the priests, they are mostly transferred to other places or given some other posts. A priest named Father Jeyapaul was convicted of sexual abuse in Minnesota, the US. He was reinstated and given a position by the Ootacamund diocese in Tamil Nadu.
The United Nations, in a scathing attack on the Church for its role in the abuse of minors and its disproportionate response to the same, had issued non-binding guidelines that the Church could follow to combat child abuse and rehabilitate the victims.
However, every time it seems the Church is always biased for the members of the body and covers up the cases of sexual abuse.
One can only imagine the turmoil and struggles the victims have to go through – even as the perpetrators of the crime and the enablers continue to roam free, unpunished and promoted to greater power.