*Eby recalls why he filed a complaint with the church against 5 priests, who allegedly sexually abused his wife.

Want priests punished I have proof Kerala church sex-for-silence survivors husbandImage for representation
news Crime Sunday, July 01, 2018 - 13:47

Two weeks ago, Eby Varghese (name changed) had not imagined that he would be at the center of a controversy that would make national headlines.  

A phone conversation he had with a friend, in which he unburdened his worries that his wife had been sexually harassed and exploited by five priests at the Malankara Orthodox church in Kerala, was leaked by his friend.

The pressure on Eby, he says, has been unprecedented over the last two months. His family, his wife's family, people from the church and even friends have been telling him to not go to the police.

But Eby says he will fight for justice until the five priests are expelled.

'They no longer deserve to be priests'

Sitting in his home near Mallappally in Pathanamthitta district, Eby tells TNM that the priests continue to lead prayers even today, paying no heed to the church that has reportedly asked them to go on long leave.  

On Thursday, Eby gave a statement before the Commission appointed by the church for the second time. The Commission consists of two counsels and a priest.

"My contention is that they no longer deserve to be priests,” he says.

He argues, "Some people even ask me what evidence I have to complain that my wife was sexually abused by the priests. My evidence is the statement of my wife, what she has given in writing to me. I have given the complaint along with her statement."

How the abuse was revealed

It was on February 2 that Eby found a bank statement in his wife's email, that mentioned a payment of over Rs 9000 to the Le Meridian hotel in Kochi.

Later, he checked her mobile phone, where he says he found evidence that she had been meeting a few priests.

After a confrontation, Eby says his wife told him the sordid story of how a priest had sexually harassed her when she was young. Later, when she confessed this to another priest, he used the information to blackmail her. The priest who took the confession, and other priests, then started asking her for sexual favours in order to keep their silence, alleges Eby.

"I informed her parents and spoke to them in the presence of a nun. I wanted her to be with her parents for some days,” Eby adds.

TNM has been unable to speak to the survivor, who is not in touch with her husband currently.

When Eby approached the church

“In the beginning, I was undecided about what I should do. I had composed a complaint to give the Superintendent of Police. But my parents suggested that I should first file a complaint with the church, or it will bring disgrace to all,” Eby says.

He then met the head of the Niranam diocese of Malankara Orthodox Syrian church in Thiruvalla on May 7. In the days that followed, he met the Thumbamon head of the church and Baselios Mar Thomas Paulose 11, the supreme head of the orthodox church in Kerala, at its headquarters in Kottayam. He also met the head of the Catholicate Church in Kottayam, since one of the accused priests is from that church.

He attached his wife’s statement and a record of her messages along with the complaint.

"The three metropolitans and the Catholicate head were convinced that my complaint was genuine but they were not able to take a decision. First, I was told by the Niranam diocese head that action will be taken in ten days as the church needs to examine the issue. Then, an extension of ten more days was sought. Again, I was asked to give the church time till May 30. On May 30, my father called up a priest and he told us that the church has appointed a commission and will take three months to complete the enquiry.”

The phone conversation

Eby says he had no clue that the church commission would take three months and felt that this was just a delaying tactic. In his frustration, he spoke to a friend over phone in June.

"The mental pressure I have been going through is huge. I still can't believe that I am alive. My friend, who is also part of the church and with whom I shared everything, recorded the conversation and shared it on social media, which was then widely circulated,” he says.

'Not against the church'

He adds many times during the conversation that he is not against the church or confessions to priests.

"I am a believer, a pious man, who is a part of the church. I am against the priests and not the church," he says.

Days after his wife went back to her home in May, Eby was stopped on the road by someone he had least expected.

It was the priest who had allegedly first sexually harassed his wife.

“He said that he had visited my wife’s house and spoken to her mother. He said my wife gave a list of other priests. He used a derogatory word against my wife. What upset me most is that my wife’s parents were aware that this priest had sexually harassed her. How did they allow him again into their house?" he asks.

But Eby refutes reports that he is under pressure from the church to withdraw his complaint.

"Nobody threatened me either; but there is advice, big, big advice,” he shares.

His ‘well wishers’ have been advising him over consequences. “Sometimes they tell me that I may meet with an accident, or that there will be mental tension or problems in the family. Some say I will get trapped in cases,” Eby says.        

Where is his wife now?

As per his latest information, she was at a retreat centre and he assumes that she must be back with her parents now.  

Kerala Crime branch has been asked by the state’s Director General of Police to investigate the allegation. Eby still wants only the church to investigate, but if he does not get justice there, he is ready to go to court.

"I want my wife back," Eby says. "I cannot imagine anyone else in her place."

 

 

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