Two days after the Malankara Orthodox Church in Kerala got mired in a controversy after allegations of sexual harassment arose against five of its priests, questions have been raised on the absence of a police complaint in this regard.
Speaking to TNM, the church now claims that it is not them, but the victim who should approach the police.
The woman’s husband has raised serious allegations against the priests of various dioceses. He had said that his wife’s confessional secret was used by the priests to blackmail her into giving sexual favours. However, neither the Thiruvalla native nor his wife has filed a police complaint in this regard.
Asked why the church has not approached the police despite receiving the complaint three months ago, a highly placed church official said that it is the woman who should approach the police.
“What is stopping the woman from going to the police? Why should we approach the police when we have taken cognizance of the complaint and formed an internal committee to inquire? Suppose this was a case involving a minor, we would have approached the police ourselves. But in this case, the woman is an adult and she can seek the help of police if she wants to,” the official said.
While the church spokesperson had earlier said that the accused priests were relieved from their duties and placed on suspension pending inquiry, the official TNM spoke to said that the accused priests were not suspended but asked to go on leave.
“We got the husband’s complaint in March and immediately set up an internal committee that comprised at least two lawyers. A preliminary enquiry was conducted and a decision was taken to send the priests on leave. We are looking into the allegations and will take action after the inquiry is completed,” the official said.
In a press statement released on Monday, the church said that an unbiased and just action has already been taken against the accused priests based on the allegations.
“Church will not protect them if they are found to be guilty. We will give an opportunity for the complainants to raise their points and also to the accused priests, according to natural justice,” the release read.
Though the husband has spoken to the media, it is not yet known what the woman's stand is. In the audio, the husband can be heard saying that 'he left her'. What is also surprising is that the husband who introduces himself as a devout Christian in the audio has only demanded defrocking of the priests and has not approached the police.
According to a complaint submitted to the church by the survivor’s husband, his wife was sexually preyed upon by the five priests. This, after they allegedly blackmailed her based on her confessional secrets.
In the last few days, an audio clip, purportedly that of the woman’s husband, has been doing the rounds on social media.
The audio clip, which is a telephonic conversation between the man and another person, says that he confronted his wife upon seeing a hefty hotel bill in her e-mail account in February this year. Saying that he was raised as a believer of the Orthodox Church and has lived all his life in purity, the man says:
“The first bill in the statement was my wife’s hotel bill where she stayed in a five star hotel. When I confronted her, she said that she was being blackmailed by one of the Orthodox priests into having a sexual relationship with him. Many years ago, before we got married, a priest had sexually abused her and was blackmailing her since then. During my daughter’s baptism, she was mentally upset about what was happening and so she confessed her ordeal to another priest, who threatened that he’ll tell this to me. Threatening her so, he demanded sexual favours from her. He even took pictures of them together and shared those pictures with a third priest. He too later started abusing my wife. They kept circulating the videos and now around 5-8 priests are involved.”
The man then goes on to name five priests from different dioceses and says that there are more priests involved, but that he hasn’t been able to verify their identities. He added that his wife has not divulged the extent of the abuse, fearing the priests would do something to her.
“I was told that the maximum punishment will be that they will be suspended. That is not enough for me, I want them defrocked, no other church should take them in. They should be punished so that no one else does this,” the man says in the audio.