Updated: March 03, 2020 12:03 PM GMT
Indian police escort priest Robin Vadakkumcherry (center) after his arrest in Peravoor, some 300 kilometers north of Kochi in the southern state of Kerala, on Feb. 28, 2017. A court convicted the priest of raping a minor. (Photo: AFP)
A diocese in southern India has announced completion of the process of laicization of a priest who is serving a 20-year jail term for raping and impregnating a minor girl three years ago.
The laicization of Father Robin Vadakkumcherry has been completed with his acceptance of the Vatican's dismissal decree and by informing the Vatican of his acceptance, Mananthavady Diocese in Kerala state said in a press release on March 1.
Police arrested Vadakkumcherry, now 51, 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 a crime.
Vadakkumcherry was then parish priest of St. Sebastian's Parish in Kottiyoor under Mananthavady Diocese and manager of the school in which the girl studied.
A court in Thalassery town sentenced Vadakkumcherry to 20 years in jail in February 2019.
The completion of laicization takes away all rights and responsibilities of Catholic priesthood from Vadakkumcherry forever, the release said.The diocese had suspended Vadakkumcherry from priestly duties in February 2017 following a preliminary investigation, soon after the media reported the case.
A diocesan committee investigated the allegations following the norms of church laws and a report was sent to the Vatican's Congregation for the Propagation of Faith.
Based on the civil court's conviction and the report of the diocese, the Vatican began the process of laicization in June 2019, the diocesan release said.
Pope Francis dismissed Vadakkumcherry from the priesthood on Dec. 5, 2019. Only the pope has the right to remove one from the priesthood, it said.
Vadakkumcherry signed and accepted the decree, which was sent back to the Vatican in February, in completion of all canonical requirements, the release said.
No action against others accused
Besides Vadakkumchery, seven others including a priest and four nuns were co-accused in the case. The court exonerated them for lack of evidence.
The seven were accused of not reporting a crime and assisting in the destruction of evidence. They were diocesan priest Father John Therakom, who was then chairman of the district's Child Welfare Committee, two doctors at a hospital where the minor girl delivered her baby, and four nuns in the hospital and an orphanage.
Father Manoj Kakkonal of Manathawady Diocese's media commission, told UCA News that the diocese did not take any action against others because the "court also has not found any charges against them. Therefore, there is no point in acting against them," he said.
"The diocese," he added, "always maintained that the other priest and nuns were innocent."
Police accused Father Therakom and doctors of not reporting the crime, the nuns of illegally helping deliver the baby in a church-run hospital, and moving the baby to a church-run orphanage in their attempt to cover up the crime. Police also accused them of tampering with records on the age of the girl.
The court exonerated the seven for want of evidence.
However, Vadakkumchery was convicted on three counts and given 20 years in jail for each crime, which can be served concurrently.
The court convicted him of raping a minor under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and violating various sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
The court also slapped a fine of 300,000 rupees (US$4,300) on the priest and ruled that the amount could be used as compensation for the victim.