A priest who spoke against child abuse was arrested in Kerala for alleged rape of a minor which led to her pregnancy, police said on Tuesday.
The 17-year-old gave birth to a baby at a private hospital last month and the accused had shifted both the mother and the newborn to an orphanage in north Kerala’s Wayanad to hush up the incident.
Father Robin Vaddakumchiryil (48), the vicar of St Sebastian church in Kottiyoor, was arrested after the girl narrated the incident to officials of childline, a telephone helpline for children in distress. Childline officials then tipped off police.
The church official had allegedly abused the girl at the computer class provided by the church, police said.
A spokesperson of the Thalasserry diocese said the priest has been taken out of all religious duties.
Police said a DNA test will be held on the priest to ascertain to strengthen the case against him. Police have also booked the private hospital, where she delivered a baby, for not informing police.
“The priest also made an attempt to implicate the girl’s father in the case. Since the family is from an economically weaker section he tried to implicate him and told many about this,” said deputy superintendent of police Prajeesh, who uses only his first name. The priest was planning to travel to Canada to evade arrest, he said.
A police official said the priest was the chief guest at a function organised recently against crime against children. He was also known to have spoken on the issue earlier.
Police quoted the minor as saying that she has been in trauma for the last two years and the priest threatened her not to reveal the incident to anyone. Fearing social stigma, her parents also kept silent. They are also likely to be questioned.
The victim’s family lives near the church and the girl used to visit the church regularly.
The priest has been charged under stringent provisions of the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act (Pocso) and IPC.
The new born was later shifted to a government-run home, said Peravur police inspector N Sunil Kumar, who is investigating the case.
The government had recently decided to fast-track cases related to sexual assault on minors.
Activists say that in most cases of child sexual abuse, the victims are known to the accused.
Data from the National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB) show that in 2015, more than 15,000 children faced sexual assault. In more than 8,300 incidents, the accused was known to the child.
Kerala Police on Saturday booked eight persons, including five nuns, on suspicion of covering up the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl by a church priest. The girl later gave birth to a baby boy in a hospital and the child was shifted to an orphanage controlled by the church.
The main accused, Father Robin Vadakkumcherry, vicar of the St Sebastian church in Kottiyoor, was arrested on February 27 while allegedly planning to flee the country.
All the accused, including two doctors and five nuns, will be charged under POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences).
“We are investigating all angles. All accused will be arrested soon,” Kannur superintendent of police Shiv Vikram told Hindustan Times.
Among the accused is the in-charge of the private hospital at Kuthuparamba in the district, where the 16-year-old girl gave birth to a boy on February 17.
They have been booked under non-bailable sections of POCSO Act and Juvenile Justice Act, Peravoor circle inspector Sunilkumar, who is the investigating officer in the case, said on Saturday.
During investigation, police found that there was an alleged attempt to cover up the whole incident and bail out the priest. The girl’s father, who belongs to an economically backward family, was also promised Rs 10 lakh to own up the crime.
Though the hospital where the girl delivered the baby claimed that it was not aware of the rape, police reportedly found out that two doctors and a few staff members knew about the incident.
Two days after the delivery, the baby was discreetly shifted to an orphanage controlled by nuns. The superintendent of the orphanage is also among the accused. Instead of reporting the incident to police, all the accused entered into a conspiracy to hush up the case, police claimed.
Meanwhile, the Mananthawady diocese, under which the accused priest worked, tendered an apology to the girl and her family.
“I endure your pain and agony. And I am also in pain…,” said Mananthawady bishop Mar Jose Porunnedam in his apology.
“The loss of self-respect and spiritual damage caused to the church by this incident is huge. I don’t know how to pacify the child and her parents. I too join in their tears. I can only apologise to you,” the bishop said.
Soon after the incident came to light, the diocese had removed the priest from all posts.
What is worrying is that reports of rape and sexual abuse are popping up in the wake of Pope Francis’s call to enforce “zero tolerance” towards clergymen involved in sexual crimes.
In his letter to all bishops in January this year, the Pope had begged forgiveness for the suffering of the children who were sexually abused by priests and exhorted them to take strict action to contain “the sin that shamed the church”.
The girl’s mother had filed on a complaint with Childline that Fr Robin had “sexually exploited” her daughter last year. The offence came to light after the girl, a resident of Neendunokki in the district, gave birth to a baby at the hospital in Koothuparamba on February 7.
The Class 11 student was studying in the school in which the accused was also the manager, police said.
Robin had attended a public programme on February 25 and left the place the next day, after police lodged a case against him on rape charges and under the Protection of Children From Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
He was picked up from Chalakkudy in Thrissur district and brought to Kannur.
A report has also been submitted to the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights and Kannur district police superintendent against the chairman and a member of the Child Welfare Committee of Wayanad district for hiding facts in the case, police official Sunilkumar said.
The report recommends action against them for concealing details of the newborn from the authorities.