Crimes Against Women
The girl had delivered a baby and DNA tests proved that the priest is the father. Efforts are now on to prove that she was not a minor during the time of the crime.
Father Robin in blur shirt.

It was a case that had rocked Kerala. A 48-year-old Catholic priest was arrested for raping and impregnating a 16-year-old girl. The arrest came despite much resistance from the Church and its allied networks. Now, more than a year after Father Robin Vadakumchery of the Mananthavady diocese was arrested, the survivor and the prime witness in the case told the POCSO court at Thalassery in Kannur district that she had consensual sex with the priest.

What has come as a bigger shock for the prosecution is that the survivor claimed that she had attained the age of consent when she had sex with the accused in 2016. The statement by the survivor, who is now an adult, has made the court declare her as hostile. The survivor has also told the court that she was ready to marry Father Robin Vadakkumchery and lead a life with him and their child.

The survivor’s mother, the second witness in the case, too has changed her statement in court. She told the court on Thursday that Thankamma Nelliyani (second accused, who worked at the maternity hospital) and her daughter Liz Maria (sixth accused) had not played any role in hiding the newborn.

TNM spoke to officers of the Childline and the police department who had unearthed the case and had tracked down nine suspects in 2017. They believe that the survivor and her family were under pressure from the accused and his coterie to change their statements.

A Childline officer TNM spoke to pointed out that the trajectory of the case was enough to show that there had been tremendous pressure on the family and the survivor. In February 2017, the girl delivered her baby in Christu Raj hospital, owned and managed by a Christian congregation. The survivor was informed that the infant had died, and meanwhile three people from the Christu Das convent in Wayanad took the baby from the hospital to an orphanage in Wayanad.

Even the Chairman of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) Fr. John Therakom was sacked by the Kerala government for his role in the cover-up.

Childline officials had received an anonymous tip off about the baby’s birth and when they confronted the family, the girl’s father first claimed that he had raped and impregnated his own daughter.

“He was under such immense pressure that he was ready to take the blame and owned up to a heinous crime that he had never committed. But soon, he broke down and said that it was Father Robin’s baby, and that has been established beyond doubt with DNA tests,” said the Childline officer.

A police officer, who was part of the investigating team told TNM that the survivor and her mother’s claim that she was 18 during the time of crime, was the only way Father Robin could ensure he was not punished under POCSO.

Sunday Shalom, a magazine supported by the Catholic Sabha in Kerala, had also acknowledged that the girl was a minor. In 2017, the magazine had written these reprehensible lines: "Here, the girl is above the age of 15. Let me tell you this, as I consider you like my daughter - you are also at fault. Before the Lord, it is you who will have to answer first. Daughter, why did you forget who a priest is? He has a human body and has temptations. He may have forgotten his position for a few seconds, my child who has taken the Holy Communion, why didn't you stop or correct him?”

Read our earlier coverage:

The cover up: How a network of institutions shielded rape accused Catholic priest and helpers
Exclusive: Kerala Catholic body’s bizarre justification, says consumerism led to rape by priest
Kerala minor rape case: DNA tests positive, confirm priest is biological father