Church Ignored Complaints For 22 Years Against Kerala Priest, And This Is How The Serial Sex Offender Was Finally Nailed

Church Ignored Complaints For 22 Years Against Kerala Priest, And This Is How The Serial Sex Offender Was Finally Nailed

by M R Subramani - Feb 20, 2020 02:50 PM +05:30 IST
Church Ignored Complaints For 22 Years Against Kerala Priest, And This Is How The Serial Sex Offender Was Finally Nailed Robin Vadakkumchery.
  • For many years Catholic Priest Robin Vadakkumchery committed sexual offences against women and minor girls, but got away with the support of the church and his political connections.

    Law has finally caught up with the priest who raped and impregnated a minor girl.

But for an undercover police investigation and an anonymous letter sent to Kerala Childline, Catholic priest of the Syro Malabar Church Robin Vadakkumchery would have got away with his reported act of raping and impregnating a minor girl in 2016.

Vadakkumchery was convicted by a local court, designated to handle Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act cases, at Thalassery in Kerala’s Kannur district on Tuesday (18 February).

The 50-year-old priest, former vicar of the Neendunokki parish near Kottiyoor under Mananthavady Diocese, has been sentenced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment and asked to pay a penalty of Rs 3 lakh — a part of which will go to the victim.

Among the problems faced by the prosecution in this case was the priest was fully backed by the church. The court examined 38 witnesses, including police, in the case with a majority of them from the church where the accused was a priest.

Almost every person who deposed before the court in the case from the parish supported the priest. Special Prosecutor Beena Kaliyath told the media that these witnesses from the church were asked not to let the church down.

The fact of the case is that Vadakkumchery raped a Class XI student of IJM Higher Secondary School, run by the church, who was a resident of Neendunokki in Kottiyoor. After being sexually abused by the priest several times in the church premises, the girl became pregnant and delivered a child on 26 February 2017.

The child was sent to Holy Infant Mary's Girls Home Adoption Centre, Vythiri, Wayanad, after which the issue came to light. Investigating officers of Childline, who visited the hospital where the delivery took place and the orphanage, found huge discrepancies in each version, forcing them to turn to the police.

The prosecution had to face several challenges, including from the church that tried to sweep the controversy under the carpet. Efforts were also made by the priest to claim the girl was not a minor by petitioning the Supreme Court for a scientific test to find her age. The petition was dismissed.

In order to weaken the case, the victim was forced to tell the authorities that she had consensual sex with the priest and was willing to be his wife. Before this, the girl’s father was forced to claim that he had raped and impregnated his daughter.

During investigations by police, the girl’s father confessed that he was taking the blame as he did not want the church to be held responsible. But probably, the offer of financial assistance from the priest to the father, who was a poor farm worker, had forced him to make the claim that he raped his daughter.

The priest, who was least bothered about impregnating her, had also paid the parents to settle the hospital bills for delivery of the child.

Soon after the news leaked out, the priest went underground and attempted to flee the country. He was arrested in February 2017 while he was on his way to take a flight to Canada, hoping to wriggle out of the case.

Six others, including a doctor, were also accused in the case for helping to cover up the incidents but they were acquitted by the Thalassery POCSO court.

A scrutiny of Vadakkumchery’s past reveals that had the church dealt with him firmly, all these incidents could have been avoided or at least the priest would have been identified as one who can harm women, particularly children like the one from Kottiyoor.

Details now emerge that in 1998, the Syro-Malabar priest had misbehaved with a Class VII girl in the hostel of a school where he worked as an assistant manager.

When the girl complained to her parents, the school authorities transferred Vadamkkumchery from the school to avoid any case being filed against them rather than taken action against him.

Though there has been a long history of the priest’s weakness for women, the church did not entertain any complaint against him. No efforts were made to find the truth on the complaints against him, that were swept under the carpet.

On a couple of occasions, Vadakkumchery was caught red handed having affairs, including with a married woman. But no action was taken despite protests from the church members.

The priest worked as production manager with the church-run Deepika daily paper and then as director of its television channel Jeevan TV. Even here, there were complaints of sexual abuse and torture of women against Vadukkumchery but they were ignored.

Roy Matthew, a media person who worked with him, told a television channel: “ Robin (Vadakkumchery) held high positions in the church throughout all the years when allegations of sexual abuse were raised against him. The church has always protected him. It is known that he is a habitual offender – but it is not just the church that protected him.”

According to P C George, Kerala Legislative Assembly member from Poonjar in Kottayam district, the priest was a shame to Catholics in Kerala.

“He (Vadukkumchery) is a shameless person. I once called him before 6 am to seek a clarification on filling the post of Deepika vice-chairman. I wanted to know why Faris Abubaker, a businessman, was being selected where there were 27,000 in the Diocese itself to be picked up,” the MLA said, adding that the phone call was attended by a woman.

“I questioned her what she was doing at his place at 6 am. She told me she was his secretary. I got angry and asked her if the secretary sleeps with the priest. I then told the authorities that he should be removed. He has been in relationships with many women,” George told a Malayalam television channel in 2017.

The MLA said Vadakkumchery should have been removed from service long ago but the church, unfortunately, tried to weaken the case against him.

After his stint with the Deepika group, the priest became a corporate manager of schools that gave him a free hand in admissions and appointments. He even bought nursing schools in Andhra Pradesh and there have been allegations of him misusing the nursing students.

However, Vadakkumchery had the right police and political connections that helped him to get away with the crimes he committed.

Matthew agrees that it was not just the church which protected the priest.

“Questions must be raised about the school authorities who allowed the girl to attend classes while she was pregnant. Did they not see what happened? Why did they not report it? How did the hospital authorities not detect earlier that the girl is a minor?” he asked a television channel.

Lucy Kalappurayil, a nun who rebelled against the church for the sexual abuse by priests, wrote in her autobiography Karthavinte Namathil (In the name of Christ) that Vadakkumchery had illicit affairs with many nuns.

The role of the church in general in tackling sexual abuses by the priests and particularly by Vadakkumchery makes one wonder if, as Kalappurayil put it, if the church is functioning like an underworld.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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