Sex abuse cases on the rise in Kerala’s churches

Sexual exploitation of a married Kerala woman by five priests has shaken the influential Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. While the Church is reported to have set up a probe team, the husband of the victim says he doesn’t have any hope of getting justice from the church. He says the Church is trying to frame him and cover up the sordid affair.

Sexual abuse cases are on the rise in the Church. One of the major cases that brought maximum damage to the clergy was the Sister Abhaya murder case. The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is believed to have spent a whopping Rs 500 crore to cover up and protect the priests and nuns involved in the murder of Sister Abhaya, who happened to witness the illicit sexual encounters between the accused priests and nuns.

In the last few years, there has been a surge in child sex abuse cases, too. Many cases went unreported because the Church authorities tried to keep these crimes secret.

Father Robin, the former Vicar of St Sebastian’s Church in Kottiyoor in Kannur district of Kerala, is facing trial for allegedly raping a 16-year-old in 2016.

Fr Edwin Figarez has been given double life term by a special court in Ernakulum in December 2016 on charges of raping a 14-year-old several times between January and March 2015 in the priest’s home at the Puthenvelikkara Church in Thrissur district.

Fr Raju Kokken had molested a nine-year-old after promising her a dress for her first holy communion in 2014. He is facing trial in the Additional and District Sessions Court in Thrissur.

A 17-year-old girl was raped and killed by a priest in 2013. The accused, Father Arokiaraj, a priest at the St Stanislaus Church in Palakkad, had confessed that he had sexually abused the victim. Although the Church dismissed him, the matter was not reported to the police.

When I struggle to escape from his clutches, he squeezes my breasts and asks me to show them to him. Refusing him angrily, I get up to leave but he forces me to sit down, asking, ‘Have you seen a “man”? Stunned, I shake my head to say “no”. In no time, he undresses himself. Now I am curious enough to watch!  I have read in novels about this but have never seen one with my own eyes. The moment I see it, I remember Sylvia Plath’s novel, the Bell Jar, where she describes it as ‘the head of a tortoise’.  After a while, he shows me a milky liquid oozing from there and lectures me on the ‘thousands of lives’ it has.

Sister Jesme, former Principal of St Mary’s College, Thrissur, said the Church had become an underworld. Unable to bear the sexual and mental torture Jesme left the Congregation of the Mother Carmelite after serving the order for 33 years as a nun. In her book Amen: The autobiography of a nun, she narrates how she was sexually abused by a priest.

“…Reaching Bangalore station early in the morning, I get off the train and see the priest impatiently waiting for me, quite unusual for him, given his reticent nature. As promised, ‘royally’ I am taken to his residence. After breakfast, despite my reluctance, he takes me to Lalbagh. ….Pointing to each couple beneath the trees, he holds forth on the need for physical love. Then he tells me about cases of priests and Bishops who have illicit relationships with women. There is one Bishop who sleeps with a woman, has a child from her and makes arrangements for its maintenance. …I am taken to his room for coffee prepared by him. While I am having the coffee sitting on the cot, the only place in the room to sit, he comes and embraces me hard, almost suffocating me. When I struggle to escape from his clutches, he squeezes my breasts and asks me to show them to him. Refusing him angrily, I get up to leave but he forces me to sit down, asking, ‘Have you seen a “man”? Stunned, I shake my head to say “no”. In no time, he undresses himself. Now I am curious enough to watch!  I have read in novels about this but have never seen one with my own eyes. The moment I see it, I remember Sylvia Plath’s novel, the Bell Jar, where she describes it as ‘the head of a tortoise’.  After a while, he shows me a milky liquid oozing from there and lectures me on the ‘thousands of lives’ it has. Although I resist undressing myself, after repeated persuasion, I oblige, and show him ‘a female’ on the condition that it will be for the twinkle of an eye.”   (Page 87-88)

Another Catholic nun Sister Mary in her biographical sketch, Nanma Niranjavare Swasthi, writes: Those who didn’t oblige the priests were always in trouble. They get pained in some way or the other. Some think that the oath of discipline that you take while accepting the nun’s robe is to be subservient to such men…Such an incident happened to me as well. As somebody who had thought of Jesus Christ as the only savior since the age of six, this experience pained me immensely….This incident, in which a priest tried to molest me and I hit him with a wooden stool in self defence, became a big issue at the congregation. Although I was the one outraged, in their eyes, I was the culprit. The unwritten rule was: whatever the priests did, nobody could question them.”  (Quote taken from a www.firstpost.com article.)

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