The latest incident that has rocked the Catholic Church and its faithful followers is the repeated rape of a minor girl by the vicar of a local church at Kottiyoor in Kannur District, Kerala. He was the manager of the school in which the girl attended classes until February 6th, a day before she gave birth to a baby boy.
This is not the first time that a priest has misused his powers and indulged in an act that priesthood forbids. A long and notorious history of Catholic priests involved in sex crimes tells us that the preachy Church has a rotten history of burying dirty secrets allowing systemic gender violence to mushroom in its backyard.
What was bizarre was the concerted effort by the Church to cover up the crime, until the Kerala police carried out an intensive investigation. They arrested the accused priest and seven others including five nuns and the doctor of the church-run hospital where the girl gave birth to the child, who were on the run. The accused were picked up on February 7th and booked under non-bailable warrants. The police should be applauded for being swift and efficient but what breaks the heart of faithful Christians like me is that the onus of the sexual crime is being put on the minor child. The Church conveniently retorted to victim-blaming rather than accepting the need to clean up the rot in the system.
The Church put the onus of the sexual crime on the minor child who was raped.
According to India Today’s report on an editorial written by Sunday Shalom, a Christian weekly, the rape could have been averted by the girl if she had wanted to. The weekly said “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?”
According to this statement, a priest who preaches and makes lofty speeches after a Sunday mass is not at fault, but the people who trust and respect him, considering him a messenger of Christ, are at fault. Shouldn’t the Bishop’s Council who blamed consumerism for rape ask such sexual offenders why they forgot their celibacy vow? If it was difficult for them to “control their hormones”, they should have never embraced a vocation that forbids its servants from sex. The Bishop’s Council also forgot that the priest who gives out the Holy Communion – and not the faithful who take the Holy Communion – is more responsible for protecting its sanctity.
Clearly, these words also expose the notorious abuse of powers by people serving religion and institutions run in its name, because the Christian weekly has reprimanded the minor girl and reminded her of who the priest is. It seems to me that the Church and its faithful servants are forgetting who priests are and what their duties should be.
Another absurd remark came from Father Paul Thelekat of the Bishop’s council who answered a query put by NewsMinute. He said “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 pre-marital sex. Women are presented as commodity both in media and advertisements and all commodities are marketed with girls and women where human body is dehumanized.”
It’s amusing how people holding positions of power blatantly abuse it by putting the blame of the rape on consumerism and its ill-effects. Apparently consuming media that objectifies women further detracts from the rape being the fault of the rapist! He further added that Father Robin, the offender, belonged to a small minority of priests who had failed to live up to the lofty ideal of celibacy.
There is an epidemic of sexual violence that has infected houses of worship.
In August last year, the Catholic Church was hit by a similar case of sexual assault by the priest of a church in Palakkad. A 17-year-old girl was found dead under mysterious circumstances at the guest room of Father Arockiaraj, the priest of St. Stanislaus Church in Walayar. The matter was closed after the police registered it as a case of suicide. It took three years for the case to make progress, with the victim’s mother continuously struggling to prove that the Church has colluded to cover up the murder.
On being asked why the Church had not been prompt in bringing the incident to the police, the Vicar General of the Coimbatore Diocese said that “It was a mistake. It was a very, very unfortunate incident. There were mistakes on the part of the Church. But we didn’t do it on purpose.”
The victim’s mother collaborated with Zee Tamil TV to conduct a sting operation, where the accused confessed to his crime, calling it a sudden outburst of events where he had wanted to prevent the victim from making noise. He had used her duppata to silence her and then he trivialized the incident by calling it an “accident”. Following the sting operation, the Church organized massive protests outside the victim’s house and excommunicated her family.
The victim’s mother has been giving her all in the fight against the Church, and the accused was finally arrested in May 2016. He was booked under sections of rape and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) but was let out on bail just 60 days after his arrest.
The complicity of the Church in reporting events of sexual abuse involving minors has led to an epidemic of sexual violence that has infected the houses of worship. The Church tries to hide such incidents of brazen misuse of power to prevent its image from getting tarnished, prioritizing its image above the lives of children being destroyed within the walls of its institution. By trying to be preachy and serving lofty ideals of holiness, without acting against crimes of child sexual abuse, the Church is proving to be just another corrupt institution that isn’t an ideal example of the right and just.
In a statement issued in August 2014, Pope Francis said that one in 50 priests is a paedophile. In India, no one can clearly state the number of priests who have indulged in sexual abuse crimes because of the conservatism that resorts to secrecy. Religious fundamentalism and the illegal suppression of facts has led to the insulation of the institution. It has to be seen if the Church is willing to open up to public scrutiny. A violative religious institution with political powers and social control is harmful for the health and progress of a state.