Indian priest arrested for sexually abusing girl

Cleric could face life imprisonment if found guilty of rape
Police in Kerala state arrested a 41-year-old Catholic priest Dec. 8 on charges of sexually assaulting a girl repeatedly for three months while serving as a parish priest in the southern Indian state.

Father Edwin Figarez was pastor of Lourde Matha Church in Kottapuram Diocese when he allegedly violated the 14-year-old girl, a ninth-grade student, according to police officer T.M. Varghese.

The priest, who attacked the girl several times between January and March 28 this year, became a fugitive after police registered a case against him in April following complaints from the victim's family, Varghese said.

The "investigation is progressing," Varghese told Dec. 9.

Father Figarez could face a life sentence and a fine if found guilty of rape.

According to police, the girl's school counselor alerted the mother to behavioral changes in the alleged victim. The girl later told her mother that the priest has been sexually abusing her for three months.

Police said the priest would invite the girl to his room for music lessons. A medical examination confirmed sexual abuse, police said.

When a case was registered against him, Father Figarez ran to Dubai to avoid arrest and appealed for bail to the Kerala High Court. He returned to India May 2 and was questioned by police. But he fled again after the High Court rejected a second bail request on May 6.

In his bail application Father Figarez told the court that two other priests fabricated the abuse case with the help of the girl's parents because they were jealous of his popularity as a retreat preacher and musician.

Father Robin Kalathil, Kottapuran diocesan spokesman, dismissed the allegations against the two priests as "totally baseless."

The diocese "temporarily suspended" Father Figarez from all pastoral ministries after police filed charges. It also conducted its own investigation, the report for which has already submitted to Rome, Father Kalathil said.

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