St. Mary's Church in Manarcad, a Marian pilgrim center of Christian communities in Kottayam district of Kerala. (Photo: UCA News)
An Orthodox church in southern India has suspended a priest and initiated an internal probe after an allegation that he raped a woman who sought his help to settle her dispute with her husband.
The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church based in Kerala suspended Father Babu Varghese Pookkottil after state police arrested him on Aug. 8 based on the woman's complaint.
The priest of Sultan Bathery Diocese has been "suspended from all his priestly duties. We have also initiated a probe into the alleged incident," diocesan secretary Father T.N. Kuriakose told UCA News.
Father Kuriakose said the diocese wants to know the truth independently of the police. "If the priest is guilty in the internal probe, he will be dismissed from the priesthood," he said.
The accused priest is a trained family counselor in the diocese based in Wayanad district. He was also the vicar at St. George Orthodox Church, one of the oldest churches in the district.
The woman's complaint said the priest became friendly with her after she had approached him for counseling.
She said she lived alone in rented quarters following a dispute with her husband. The priest entered her house one day and raped her, she claimed.
Police said the priest is currently under quarantine following directions from a court. His swab has been taken for a Covid-19 test.
If he is negative to the infection, he will be produced in the court in a day or two, a police officer told UCA News.
The priest or his family have not yet reacted to the allegation.
The case is the latest in a series of clerical sex abuse cases to shock the Christian community in the state.
In June 2018, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church suspended five priests following allegations that they sexually abused a mother of two children by using her confession secrets to blackmail her.
The scandal erupted when an audio clip of a telephone conversation, purportedly between the woman's husband and a church official, went viral on social media.
The husband named the five priests, who shared her confessional secrets and sexually abused her after blackmailing her. In the audio clip, he claimed that at least eight priests sexually abused his wife, threatening to reveal her secrets to her husband.
The church, also known as the Indian Orthodox Church, is one of the seven churches that trace their faith to St. Thomas the Apostle, who, according to tradition, preached in southwest India in the first century.
Two Catholic priests were suspended in Mananthavady Diocese following allegations of rape in June. Another priest was suspended in March in Idukki district after being accused of sexually abusing a Catholic mother.
Mananthavady laicized a priest in July after a court jailed him last year for 20 years. He was convicted of raping and impregnating a minor girl.
In another sensational case, Catholic Bishop Franco Mulakkal is facing trial in a Kerala court on charges of raping a Catholic nun.