A former Catholic priest in the south Indian state of Kerala, who is serving a life term for raping and impregnating a minor, asked to post bail to marry the survivor and take care of their child.
Robin Vadakkumchery, 54, was arrested in February 2017, for raping the minor girl on several occasions in 2016. The then 16-year-old girl—a student with the school attached to the church he was a vicar at—went on to give birth to a baby boy on February 7, 2017, in a private hospital after complaining of stomach pain.
On February 17, 2019, Vadakkumchery was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail and imposed a fine of INR 200,000 (US$ 2667) by the Thalassery Protection of Children and Sexual Offences (POCSO) court.
Early this week, the former priest moved the Kerala High Court for bail and temporary suspension of his sentence for two months in order to marry the survivor, who is now 20 years old. Indian news outlets report that the survivor and her parents have also signed the petition and moved it jointly with the convict.
Vadakkumchery reportedly stated that he will look after his child and establish his parenthood, and needs his sentence to be temporarily suspended to solemnise his marriage. The child has been at two orphanages under the supervision of the Child Welfare Committee since the day of his birth.
"Upbringing in an orphanage away from parental care would certainly traumatize the child," said Vadakkumchery’s petition, adding that he loved the survivor and wants to lead a family life.
After Vadakkumchery’s bail plea, activists and prosecution called this a ruse to get out of the long-term sentence. "Every rape convict can then offer to marry the survivor, we cannot encourage such suggestions," Suman Chakravarti, the public prosecutor of the case, told The News Minute.
The Child Welfare Committee, which has the custody of the child, repeatedly denied Vadakkumchery’s earlier request for the child’s custody on account of him being a prisoner.
Police were alerted about the case when children welfare officials got wind of the girl’s pregnancy and secretive delivery of the child in 2017. During interrogation by the police, the survivor’s father claimed that he raped his child, but upon further questioning, he finally named the priest. Later, the survivor too told the police about being raped by him.
In 2018, during the trial, the survivor turned hostile and said the sex was consensual. In the later stages of the trial, the parents and many witnesses turned hostile too. The suggestion of marriage was proposed by Vadakkumchery, the survivor and her parents during the trial. The court rejected it and convicted Vadakkumchery after a DNA test confirmed he had raped the minor.
In March 2020, Pope Francis defrocked Vadakkumchery from the Mananthavady diocese in Kerala. In his petition, Vadakkumchery claimed that the Pope had, in fact, “dispensed” him from the priesthood as a result of his request because it was an “impediment to the marriage.”
The high court is expected to consider the former priest’s application on July 24.
The extent of sexual assault and abuse in the Indian Catholic church was revealed in 2019 through an investigation by the Associated Press. There were shocking accounts of sexual harassment, assault, rape and other forms of violence meted out to the nuns dating back to the 1990s.
Another incident, where a Bishop was charged with the rape of a nun over the course of two years became a first-of-its-kind in the country. The months-long investigation indicted the Bishop despite active efforts to silence the survivor and her supporters.
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