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HC rejects anticipatory bail to accused priests
Causing further embarrassment for scandal-beleaguered Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Kerala High Court on Wednesday rejected the bail applications of three of its priests who have been charged with sexually exploiting a young woman by blackmailing her using her confession secret.
In the context of the court’s decision, the Crime Branch of the Kerala Police probing the case may arrest Fr Abraham Varghese, Fr Job Mathew and Fr Jaise K George, who have been charged with rape, any moment. Steps are also on to arrest another priest of the same Church, Fr Johnson V Mathew, who has been accused of outraging modesty of the young woman.
However, reports said that all the four priests, who had gone into hiding immediately after the Crime Branch booked them, were reportedly preparing to surrender before court. Sources said that the Orthodox Church leadership had instructed them to surrender even as there were rumours that they might approach the Supreme Court for bail.
The court, which examined the woman’s statement and the Crime Branch’s case diary, rejected the bail applications of the three priests by observing that there were sufficient evidences prima facie that warranted their arrest. It is yet to consider the anticipatory bail plea filed by Fr Johnson V Mathew belonging to the Thumpamon Diocese of the Orthodox Church in the same case.
The High Court allowed the Crime Branch team probing the case to go ahead with the legal procedures including arrest of the priests. It rejected the argument of the priests that the woman had complained about the sexual abuse several years after the incidents but the court asked whether delay in complaining was going to work out in their favour.
Unleashing scathing criticism against the accused priests, the court said that they had acted like predators against the victim. They had misused their positions in the Church in order to conquer the victim, it observed, adding that the statements she had given to the investigators and before a Magistrate could not be neglected.
The priests had abused the woman sexually by exploiting her faith in God and her trust in the Church, the Prosecution alleged. As the accused were influential persons, granting them bail would affect the probe adversely, it said. That one of the priests had abused her when she was an adolescent was a very serious charge, it pointed out.
The scandal had erupted last month after an audio clip containing a purported conversation between the young woman’s husband and an official of the Orthodox Church in which he had alleged sexual abuse of his wife by the priests came out through social media. The man alleged that five priests had sexually abused his wife by blackmailing her using her confession secret.
According to the woman’s statements to the investigating Crime Branch team and before a Magistrate, Fr Abraham Varghese alias Sony Varghese, who was a neighbour, had sexually abused her before her marriage when she was only 16 and he had continued to exploit her even after her marriage.
As per the victim’s statements, she had mentioned this in her post-marriage confession, heard by Fr Job Mathew, who is accused of sexually abusing her by threatening to disclose the confession secret to her husband. Both Fr Abraham Varghese and Fr Job Mathew belonged to Niranam Diocese of the Orthodox Syrian Church.
The woman had told Fr Johnson V Mathew, a friend from her college days, about her bad experiences with the two priests. This priest also exploited her but she had not accused him of raping her. The Crime Branch charged him with outraging woman’s modesty and not with rape while the three other priests were slapped with both the charges.
According to the victim, she had told Fr Jaise K George of the Orthodox Church’s Delhi Diocese about her ordeals in the hands of the priests during a counseling session but he exploited her by blackmailing her with the secret and some morphed photographs at a luxury hotel in Kochi. She also told the investigators that it was she who paid the hotel bill.
The woman’s husband had on May 7 lodged a complaint with the Church leadership against the priests but, according to him, what followed was a campaign through the social media to humiliate his family by portraying his wife in bad light. A section in the Church leadership had also tried to cover up the scandal, he alleged.
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