Father Prodip Gregory has been arrested for allegedly raping a minor girl in a parish in Rajshahi district of northern Bangladesh. (Photo: Facebook)
Police in northern Bangladesh have arrested a Catholic priest and produced him before a court on allegations of confining a 14-year-old indigenous girl for three days and raping her.
Father Prodip Gregory, 41, parish priest of St. John Mary Vianney’s Church in Mundumala, covered by Rajshahi Diocese, was arrested on Sept. 29 evening, a police official confirmed.
“The priest was arrested last evening and he has been produced before the court in Rajshahi after the elder brother of the victim filed a case. Police rescued the victim from a nun’s convent. She will be sent to Rajshahi Medical College Hospital for medical tests,” Rakibul Hasan, officer in charge of Tanore Police Station in Rajshahi, told UCA News on Sept. 30.
Swapan Hasdak, an ethnic Santal Catholic and the complainant, said his family demands justice for the abuse of his sister.
“She went missing on Sept. 26 after she left home to collect grass for cattle. We searched for her in various places frantically and filed a general diary [to report her missing] on Sept. 27. The next day, a worker in the church told us they had seen her in the residence of the priests. I filed the case to get justice,” Hasdak, a primary school teacher, told UCA News.
“We never imagined a priest could commit such a heinous offense. My sister is traumatized and the whole family is in grave shock. We want to see exemplary punishment.”
The case has made headlines in local and national media and created a storm on social media sites, particularly Facebook. While many expressed shock and demanded justice over the case, others alleged that such offenses are common but covered up.
Media reports alleged that there had been unsuccessful efforts from the church authority to settle the issue through arbitration.
Father Gregory was arrested at the bishop’s house in Rajshahi city and taken into police custody.
Church takes swift action
Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi said that although it is not yet clear “who is telling the truth or who is lying” about what happened, the Church has taken swift action by suspending the accused from priestly ministries.
“There are different versions of what happened. The priest claimed he was innocent, while the girl and local people said different things. The priest knows if he has committed the crime or not. From my side, I want to see the truth revealed and justice meted out to the offender. The priest won’t be reinstated if he cannot prove his innocence,” Bishop Rozario told UCA News.
This is not the first time that allegations of sexual assault have surfaced against Father Gregory, who was ordained a priest in 2009.
During his time as the assistant parish priest of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Benedwar of Naogaon district in 2010, he was accused of sexually assaulting a minor indigenous girl in a church-run hostel.
“The priest raped my sixth-grader niece several times. Other girls knew about the offense, but they remained tightlipped fearing a backlash from him. The church authority settled the matter secretly and it was covered up. If justice had been done that time, the latest rape wouldn’t have happened,” Elias Murmu, a Santal Catholic from Benedwar Parish, told UCA News.
“Due to such cover-ups and injustices in the Catholic Church, people are losing their trust and devotion to priests and they are moving away from the Church.”
Bishop Rozario denied there had been a cover-up in the 2010 case.
“He made some technical faults in Benedwar Parish regarding a minor girl. We had a probe and the priest was suspended and sanitized for a long time. Now, if the priest is found guilty, he must face due punishment according to the law,” the prelate said.
Bangladesh's Women and Child Repression (Prevention) Act 2000 classifies sexual intercourse with anyone below the age of 16 as rape even if it is consensual, with a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.