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Kerala high court declines bail to priest in sexual exploitation case

Father Varghese and three others were booked under non-bailable sections of the IPC after a woman accused them of sexually exploiting her over the last few years.

india Updated: Jul 03, 2018 19:54 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Kerala high court,Indian Penal Code,Sexual exploitation
Protesters in Mumbai take out a rally against rape and sexual exploitation of women across the country.(REUTERS File)

The Kerala high court on Tuesday refused to stay the arrest of a priest affiliated to the Malankara Orthodox church on charges of sexually exploiting a believer for many years. However, it will take his petition up for consideration again on Monday.

Father Abraham Varghese of the Niranom diocese had approached the court after police registered a case against him and three other priests under non-bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code. The clergyman contended in his petition that the police were trying to arrest him in a “fabricated” case.

The victim – a mother of two – alleged that Father Varghese had sexually assaulted her when she was a minor. The statement further stated that when she confessed this before another priest, he used it as a handle to exploit her too. Things came to a head when he shared the information with two other priests, allegedly spurring them to join in as well.

The government counsel opposed Father Varghese’s request for a stay on the arrest, stating that such an action would affect the ongoing investigation into the case. To this, the court stated that it would take up the plea again on Monday after acquiring the woman’s statement, and the priest’s arrest cannot be prevented until then.

In her statement to the police, the woman said Father Varghese first assaulted her during a prayer meeting when she was just 16. After the complainant got married in 2009, she related the incident to the second priest – Father Job Mathew – during a church confession. However, instead of helping the woman, the priest allegedly used her admission to sexually exploit her too. Later, Father Mathew informed two of his colleagues – Jais K George and Jonson V Mathew – who also allegedly joined him in taking advantage of the woman.

Though the woman’s husband had initially named five priests, police booked four after recording her statement.

Meanwhile, the Thiruvalla magistrate court recorded the victim’s statement under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure on Tuesday. The investigating team had earlier recorded her husband’s statement. Crime branch inspector general S Sreejith – who heads the probe – also met Baselios Marthoma Paulose II, the supreme head of the Malankara Orthodox Church, in this connection.

A case has been registered against the four priests under sections 354 (outraging the modesty of a woman) and 376 (rape) of the IPC. Police have also sought legal opinion to check if Father Varghese can be prosecuted under provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

First Published: Jul 03, 2018 19:43 IST