People gather as police take Robin Vadakkancherry for investigation to St. Sebastian’s Church at Kottiyoor in Kerala after he was arrested elsewhere on Feb. 27, 2018, for raping a minor girl student at a school under his management. (ucanews.com photo)
A defrocked Catholic priest, who is serving a jail term for raping a minor girl, has petitioned the High Court in a southern Kerala state seeking two months' parole to marry his victim as she has come of age.
The former priest Robin Vadakkumcherry said in his application that he wants to take care of the baby born out of the rape and the mother.
Vadakkumcherry, now 52, said he does not hold any priestly responsibilities after he was dismissed from the priesthood, that does not allow a priest to marry.
The child is now in a government care home. Vadakkumcherry's appeal against his conviction is pending in Kerala High court.
Vadakkumcherry, in his submission, said it was challenging to complete the process of his marriage to the victim because of the Covid-19 situation and therefore sought two-months parole to carry out the ceremony.
However, the prosecution objected to his demand and raised questions about his intentions based on the findings of a police report.
Special public prosecutor Ambika Devi, who is handling the case, refused to divulge details about it. However, she told UCA News on Jul 17 that Vadakkumcherry had requested the suspension of his sentence for two months to marry the girl.
This latest move by the ex-priest, however, was not met favorably by community members.
Advocate Induleka Joseph, a lawyer practicing in Kerala High Court, told UCA News that the court has nothing to do with Vadakkumcherry's marriage.
" It only has jurisdiction to grant or deny his parole. The general conditions for parole include the death of close family members and sickness, but certainly not for marriage," he said.
"If the court grants him permission to marry the girl he raped, it will set the wrong precedent as marriage is a personal choice of both the parties, and the court has no role to play in it," Joseph said.
Joseph said the move looks like a Chruch attempt for "an image makeover with this plea in the court."
"The Church can take the high moral stand explaining that the ex-priest had committed an offense, which is human. However, he had repented and married the girl, accepted the child," she told UCA News on Jul 17.
Meanwhile, Catholic layman Jose Joseph said he found the priest's request "atrocious".
"The priest is now 52, and the girl is 18. The ex-priest will have to spend another 20 years behind bars. By the time he completes his jail term, he will be over 70-years old, and she will still be in her youth", he told UCA News on Jul 16.
"This kind of practice," he asserted, must be discouraged, despite there not being legally prohibited.
Others suggested that if both parties are so eager to get married, it can be done in jail and there is no need for the two months parole.
Vadakkumcherry, was arrested in 2017 on charges of raping a 17-year-old girl and fathering her child. Sex with a girl under 18, a minor under Indian law, is considered rape.
Vadakkumcherry was then parish priest of St. Sebastian's Parish in Kottiyoor in the Mananthavady Diocese and manager of the school, in which the girl studied.
A special court dealing with child sex abuse cases in Thalassery sentenced the ex-priest on Feb 17, 2019, to a total of 60 years imprisonment under different sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. But it allowed him to serve the sentences simultaneously, bringing the total jail term down to 20 years.
The court punished the ex-priest despite his efforts to pervert the course of justice, including an attempt to persuade the girl's own father to claim paternity of the child.
The girl too, supported the ex-priest in the court, claiming that she was not a minor and even produced certain documents to prove her age.
However, none of those exercises helped the former priest to escape punishment as the DNA test proved that he was the father and official documents showed that she was a minor when the offense occurred.
The diocese suspended the priest following his arrest in connection with the rape. It carried out an internal investigation against which found him guilty of the charges before reporting its findings to the Vatican with a recommendation to laicize him.
Pope Francis acted upon the diocesan recommendation and dismissed Vadakkumcherry from the priesthood on Dec 5, 2019, almost two years after his arrest.