People gather as police bring Father Robin Vadakkancherry for investigation to his St. Sebastian’s Church at Kottiyoor, Kerala after he was arrested elsewhere Feb. 27 for raping a minor girl student from a school under his management. (ucanews.com photo)
Police in the southern Indian state of Kerala have arrested a 48-year-old Catholic priest for raping and making a 17-year-old girl pregnant.
Father Robin Vadakkancherry,* parish priest of St. Sebastian's Church in Kottiyoor was arrested after an investigation proved his involvement, according to police.
The priest belongs to Mananthavady Diocese of Syro-Malabar Church, one of the three Catholic rites in the state.
The case came to light after the girl, a high school student, gave birth to a baby boy three weeks ago. The state-run Child Helpline office informed police after an anonymous letter informed them of the girl's delivery. In India, girls under the age of 18 years are considered minors.
The girl is a student of the church-run Immigration Jubilee Memorial Higher Secondary School where the priest was managing director until his arrest. The girl's family, a member of the priest's parish, did not report the crime to the police.
Kannur Child Welfare Committee chairman Mathew Thelliyil told ucanews.com that they conducted a "secret inquiry" based on facts given on the anonymous letter.
"Our investigation revealed an attempt to hush up the incident by taking the girl to a church-run hospital for delivery, and later moving the mother and the child to an orphanage under the diocese," Thelliyil said.
According to Thelliyil the girl also tried to hide the priest's identity, reportedly an influential person in the diocese. She named the priest only after being questioned by the police.
The deputy superintendent of police Prajeesh Thottathil told ucanews.com that since the girl is 17 and a minor according to law they have registered a case under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and record it as a rape of a woman by a person "in a position of trust or authority." If guilty of charges under this provision, the priest can be imprisoned for the remainder of his natural life.
The police officer said the case will also be registered against the hospital where the girl delivered the child if investigations prove it colluded with the accused in not reporting the crime to the police.
Mananthavady Diocese has suspended the priest from all his priestly duties and responsibilities, the vicar general Father Mathew Perumattikunnel told ucanews.com. They have also instituted an internal investigation, he said.
"If found guilty, action will be taken according to canon law" including dismissal of the priest, Father Perumattikunnel said. "We are not in a position to ascertain facts from the priest as he is in police custody now. The investigating committee will question him after he comes out of custody," said the vicar general.
He said this was "the first compliant" the diocese has about the priest who worked in senior positions inducing managing the church-run Deepika daily and Jeevan television channel. He also worked in a college.
This however, is not the first instance of a priest accused of sexual abuse in Kerala.
In January, a 65-year-old priest Basil Kuriakose, principal of a school Muvattupuzha in Ernakulum district, was arrested on charges of sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy.
Police also arrested James Thekemuriyil, 41, rector of a Catholic seminary in Kannur district in October for an alleged sexual assault on a 21-year-old seminarian who complained of being abused by the priest.
In December, a Catholic priest was sentenced to life imprisonment under for the rape of a teenage girl. The priest, Edwin Figarez, raped the victim many times while serving as the priest in Kottappuram Diocese.
In August last year, another Catholic priest was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing and murdering a 17-year-old student in Palakkad district. Four other clergymen, including a bishop were arrested for allegedly covering up the case.
*The priest's name has been updated. The earlier spelling "Wadakkancheril" was incorrect.