A minor girl in Kerala was raped and impregnated, allegedly by a priest, and everything in the investigation points to a system that not only allowed this crime to happen, but actively tried to cover it up.
But the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council is completely blind to this problem in their backyard. Instead of taking steps to ensure that priests don’t get away with crime, the council has conveniently said that this case is an ‘exception’ among the 9033 catholic priests in Kerala.
In a reply to TNM’s queries on the issue, Father Paul Thelekat of the Bishops' Council said, “In India there are 19946 catholic priests and in Kerala 9033 priests. What we discuss is a case of failure of a small minority in living the lofty ideal of celibacy. The fact it is a minority does not make the sin and crime minor. The very fact that it gets news value is that it is an exception and a fall from the ideal.”
The feeble attempt at denouncing the crime is lost in the justification offered by the council for the behaviour of ‘some’. The reply gets more bizarre as the council then puts the blame for sexual violence and child sexual abuse squarely on ‘consumerism’.
“Consumerism is indeed a situation affecting everyone in the world and priests are also in the world. It is in celibacy and in virginity the crisis become apparent first, then it will become a crisis of fidelity in marriage with extra-marital and premarital sex. Women are presented as commodity both in media and in advertisements and all commodities as marketed with girls and women where human body is dehumanized,” he wrote.
The council is clearly attempting to wash its hands off and ignore the systemic abuse that a minor faced under their watch. The survivor was studying in a school attached to the church where the accused, Father Robin, was a priest.
He allegedly raped her in his room multiple times, and when he impregnated her, he reportedly tried to cover it up. After the girl, Asha*, secretly delivered the child at a hospital run by the church, the new-born was taken to an orphanage without Asha’s knowledge.
Child welfare officials only came to know about the case on the basis of a tip-off, as not even the hospital had informed the police. However, when TNM reached out to the hospital, George, the Public Relations Officer denied that they tried to hide the incident.
The Bishops Council’s reply comes just a day after a Malayalam magazine, Sunday Shalom, tried to paint this as an isolated incident. “There are many people who do good deeds, how come people are not seeing that? Why are not good things said about these people? To ridicule all priests in the name of all mistakes committed by one or two priests is saddening the entire community,” the magazine said.
The magazine does not stop at that. “Even Judas was Jesus’s disciple, today we are walking behind this disciple. Those who need to be isolated, should be isolated but let’s not throw mud at those who have not done any mistakes. We can proudly call every priest as a virtue we have earned, allow them to walk confidently in their robes,” it said.
Making a false equivalence, the magazine added: “Kerala is a land where a biological father has raped and impregnated his daughter. Does that mean all fathers should be castrated?” (sic)
“The guidelines of the church with regard to paedophilia is very strong and clear. We cannot defend the one who committed the crime but we have to defend the victim. If this ideal is neglected in church then it becomes unfaithful to Christ,” Father Paul wrote.
But what use are ‘guidelines’ when the Church refuses to recognise that this wasn’t an isolated incident, but a textbook definition of systemic abuse?