I believe in God. In those low-points of my career or in my personal life, for one fleeting moment I look up to God and pray that everything gets alright. I believe in prayer.
But no amount of religiosity, spirituality or faith in God can get anyone to defend or justify an act as sickening and predatory as a Christian priest getting a 16-year-old girl pregnant, and then covering it up. And yet, this is exactly what the Church in Kerala is doing. Worse, many connected with the priest directly or indirectly are openly blaming the child.
Here are those reprehensible lines from Sunday Shalom, a magazine supported by the Catholic Sabha in Kerala, which would get anyone to seethe in anger.
"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?”
The girl the article blames is the 16-year-old who recently delivered a child at a hospital in Kannur. After an attempt to cover-up by the girl’s family, the priest who had allegedly raped her and impregnated her was arrested.
The alleged sexual predator, Father Robin or Mathew Vadakkancheril, was no stranger to the people of Kannur. He was seen on TV discussing crimes against children, had worked with two media organisations and had been a vociferous supporter of farmers’ rights in Kerala. As it turned out, that was just one side of his personality.
But according to Shalom magazine, Father Robin is an ‘aberration’.
“There are many people who do good deeds, how come people are not seeing that? Why are not good thing said about this people? To ridicule all priests in the name of all mistakes committed by one or two priests is saddening the entire community?”
There is more.
“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 who have not done any mistakes. We can proud call every priest as a virtue we have earned, allow them to walk confidently in their robes.”
Later, in a reply to TNM, the Kerala Catholic Bishop Council said that out of 9033 priests in Kerala, only one or two ‘commit sins’. And these sins were conveniently blamed on ‘increasing consumerism’ – whatever that means. Read our full story here.
The cycle of assault, insult, gut-wrenching victim-blaming and whatboutery never seems to end. After Father Robin’s arrest, actor and filmmaker Joy Mathew commented that all priests should be castrated. Joy Mathew’s comment is outlandish, but Shalom magazine had a strange counter point to make.
“Kerala is a land where a biological father has raped and impregnated his daughter. Does that mean all fathers should be castrated?” the magazine asked. In fact, Shalom magazine and many other ‘believers’ have been on a rampage for days claiming that Father Robin is just one ‘rotten egg’ and the community of priests cannot be blamed for one person’s actions.
Much of this mindless bluster driven by male ego and religious insecurity, but this blatant falsifying of events and twisting of facts cannot be allowed to pass.
For one, people like Father Robin (presuming he may be innocent) are not an aberration or single rotten egg. There are many like them in the system and more stinking ones helped people like him cover it up.
The 16-year-old’s parents claim they never knew about the pregnancy. They told the police that initially they took their daughter to a homoeopathy doctor as she was missing her periods. But their version was questionable from day one, and there is enough reason now to believe that the priest had bribed the poor family to keep quiet. The delivery was done in a hospital owned and run by the church. The infant was quickly shifted to an orphanage. The entire issue would never have come to light if not for an anonymous letter that someone sent to the Child Welfare Committee.
When the family, the hospital and other members of the Church clearly seem to be complicit in helping the father get away with the rape, why is he being projected as a ‘single’ perpetrator functioning alone?
Incestual rapes and child abuse within homes is a problem plaguing our country, one that few wish to acknowledge. But Shalom magazine’s retort to Joy Mathews is problematic and plain erroneous. There can be no comparisons drawn between offenders within a family and a priest who is insulated by the system he works for.
The convenient excuse that the church hands out each time such an assault comes out in the open is this – “Not all priests are like that.”
Well than how many is bad enough?
Kerala has seen at least 10 cases of priests being accused or convicted of child abuse in the last few years. And there is ample evidence to prove that each time an abuse is reported, the ‘community’ gets together to cover it all up.
World over, the church is being criticized for being insular and not looking inward. The moral failure, cover-ups, protecting and then distancing the church from the accused has been a pattern that has been reported since the previous century – and yet we continue to respond the same way?
What’s worse is that even those from within the community who choose to speak out against the rape and abuse are targeted. Whether it was Sister Jesme, Sister Anita or Sister Mary, those who have spoken about sexual and other offenses shielded by the church have been branded as traitors.
Over the years, there are many priests who have been accused or even convicted by courts. A 2010 plenary meeting of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, an apex body of catholic churches in India, had said they would have a zero-tolerance policy with regard to abuse of children in institutions run by the Church.
The spokesperson Babu Joseph Karakombil had then said that ‘any clergy member accused of sexual abuse would be suspended from all priestly duties, and in extreme cases, the Church would consider defrocking the priest’.
Despite these proclamations, priests are transferred within seminaries or simply given other posts – no real punishment is given to them. A case in point is Father Jeyapaul. Convicted of sexual abuse in Minnesota, the priest was reinstated and given a position by the Ootacamund diocese in Tamil Nadu. Despite media attention, the church has brazened it out and never bothered to oust Jeyapaul or apologise for their deplorable action.
Cover-up, protecting the accused and allowing them to continue with the church only emboldens others and sends out the message that the system will pardon abuse. To be fair to the Kerala Catholic Bishop Council, they have defrocked priests convicted of sexual crime – but is that enough?
In the name of religion and God almighty, a sexual predator is being given a free pass. I ask the ‘believers’ who justify the priest, you might have faith in your God, but do you have any humanity left?