Indian theologian Virginia Saldanha (center) takes part in a protest by victims of sexual abuse and members of Ending Clergy Abuse at a papal summit on the sex abuse crisis in Rome on Feb. 23, 2019. (Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)
In the latest in a series of clerical sexual abuse cases in India, two Catholic priests have been removed from priestly duties following allegations of sexually abusing women in a parish in Kerala state.
The Archdiocese of Tellicherry, where the priests worked, said in a note on June 14 that Fathers Mathew Mullapally and Jose Poothottal were banned from priestly duties as part of a diocesan investigation. Both priests served Pottanplav parish successively.
Father Poothottal is a religious priest belonging to the Congregation of St. John the Baptist Precursor. The diocese has also urged his superiors to take action against him, the note said.
The archdiocese has set up a three-member panel to probe the charges against Father Mullapally, a priest of the archdiocese.
Records of telephone conversations and video that have gone viral on social media claim the priests forced and coerced several women in the parish to have sex with them.
The shocking expose follows after Father Poothottal in a telephone conversation with parishioner Paul Ambatt admitted to having sex with female parishioners. The priest was heard pleading with the layman to not make it public. The audio recording went viral on social media.
Media reports suggest that Father Poothottal learned that his predecessor Father Mullapally had illicit relations with some women, including Catholic wives, in the parish. He allegedly tracked those women and sough sexual favors.
A parishioner also captured a video of Father Poothottal’s intimate scenes with some mothers and girls. This was also revealed in the audio conversation.
In the audio recording, Father Poothottal is heard pledging to change his ways and pleading for it not to be released to the media as his sickly mother would not be able to deal with its shock.
The parishioner is also heard saying that he had already informed the local bishop about the audio clip. He also promised not to make it public. The archdiocese notice about the action comes after the video and audio went viral.
“As soon as the audio clip of Father Mullapally came to the public domain, the priest was restrained from his priestly ministry and a probe was initiated,” the archdiocesan statement said.
The archdiocese also apologized to Catholics for the priests’ misdeeds and urged them to “ignore the social media campaign” against the archdiocese, the statement said.
“The archdiocese has also initiated legal proceedings to bring out the truth,” its public relations officer Father Thomas Thengumpallil told UCA News on June 15.
These developments follow a clergy sex scandal in Idukki Diocese in Kerala in March. A senior priest in that diocese was suspended after videos and photos of him having sex with a parishioner, a mother of two children, went viral on social media.
India has reported a series of clerical sex cases in recent times, including allegations against two bishops of having sexual relations.