Kerala Church Sex Scandal : SC Dismisses Bail Application of Clergymen
The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed the anticipatory bail plea of Father Soni Abraham Varghese and Father Jaise K George in connection with the sex scandal case involving Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in Kerala. The bench of Justice A K Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan dismissed their petition stating that it was not a fit case for anticipatory bail.
They are accused of committing offences punishable under Sections 376, 354, 354A, 506(i) of IPC by abusing their priestly position to force a married woman to return sexual favors
The victim woman had got herself impleaded in the case, pointing out that one priest had made derogatory statements against her in social media, revealing her identity. Viewing this seriously, the bench observed that the issue can be raised at the time of trial.
The accused priests undertook to surrender before the concerned Court by August 13. The Bench made it clear that any application for regular bail made by the accused could be taken for consideration by the concerned Court on the same day itself. On July 17 the Court had stayed their arrest during the pendency of the petition.
The crux of the prosecution case is that the first accused started sexually abusing the survivor from November 1999 on the pretext of marrying her. However, he married another woman in 2002. In 2005, the first accused met the complainant again and forced her to have a sexual relationship with him. The second accused is a vicar of a nearby church, before whom the survivor had revealed her relationship with the first accused during her ‘confession’ ceremony. It was alleged that the vicar sexually exploited her by blackmailing her that the confession statement would be divulged to her husband. The third accused, a senior of the survivor in college, is alleged to have sexually exploited her through blackmail using her morphed obscene images. The fourth accused is a counselor, before whom the survivor had disclosed her past. The fourth accused, though showed an affinity towards the survivor in the beginning, it is stated, during the course of time had sexually misbehaved towards her and had obtained sexual and monetary favour by forcing her to stay at a five-star hotel in Cochin.
In the meanwhile, the husband of the victim happened to stumble upon bills regarding the stay at the five-star hotel at Cochin. On questioning, the victim narrated the incidents to her husband. Thereupon he laid a complaint against the accused before the church authorities. It is stated that some action was taken against the priests, however, the matter was not informed to the police. The police were informed about the matter much later and the same was leaked to media and a public furore was created.
The crime branch on July 2 registered a case the priests on the basis of statements given by a woman.
The Kerala high court had earlier dismissed the petition filed by these four priests .Terming the accused had acted as ‘predators’, Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan of High Court of Kerala had observed “Prima facie, it appears that the applicants have acted as predators and they have taken undue advantage of the position of the survivor to their advantage. From her version, it appears that the survivor has been systematically abused by the accused who all are closely known to the family members of the victim. The apprehension of the prosecution that the applicants would manage to tamper with evidence and influence the witnesses cannot be ignored, the investigation being in the preliminary stages. The reasonable possibility of the applicants managing to obstruct the course of justice, if released at this stage, cannot be brushed aside.”
Following that, one of the accused Father Job Mathew had surrendered on July 12. After spending over a week in judicial custody, he was released on bail by the High Court. Father Johnson Mathew is the fourth priest involved in the case; however, no charges of rape are levelled against him, and he stands accused for the offence of outraging the modesty of woman. His bail application was conditionally allowed by the High Court on July 23.