Kerala court on Saturday sentenced a Catholic clergyman to 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment for raping a minor, who gave birth two years ago, in a case that took several shocking turns.
Six others, including 5 nuns and 1 administrator, who were accused of helping cover up the incident were acquitted for lack of evidence.
Two years after the heinous rape case of a 16-year old from Kannur came to light, the Thalassery POCSO Court has convicted Fr Robin Vadakkumchery of the Mananthavady diocese, who was accused of raping and impregnating the minor in 2016. The girl gave birth to a child on Februay 7, 2017.
However, the POCSO court has acquitted 6 other accused – 5 nuns from the Christu Raj convent and 1 administrator who were accused of covering up the incident for lack of substantial evidence.
The court verdict against Father Robin was primarily on the basis of the victim’s live birth certificate that showed that she was a minor in 2016 when the rape happened. Moreover, the DNA of the child born in 2017 matched with Robin’s, proving unequivocally that he was behind the rape of the minor who was studying in a church run institution.
The case took on several twists and turns after the news broke out, exposing how deep the power network ran within the church as an institution. In fact, at one point, owing to the unbearable pressure, the girl’s father had even claimed that he’d raped his own daughter and impregnated her.
“He was under such immense pressure that he was ready to take the blame and owned up to a heinous crime that he had never committed. But soon, he broke down and said that it was Father Robin’s baby, and that has been established beyond doubt with DNA tests,” a Childline officer had then told TNM.
The survivor and the mother, too, were declared hostile witnesses by Judge PN Vinod, after they claimed that she had been 18 years of age at the time of the rape. However, the survivor’s live birth certificate from the hospital when she was born established her age at 16. DNA test results on the baby she delivered also proved that Fr Robin was the father of the child.
The survivor was a student at the school where Fr Robin was teaching and had allegedly been raped by him several times in 2016. The abuse led to her giving birth at the Christu Raj Hospital, a church run institution in Thokkilangadi, Kannur, on February 7, 2017.
Police say that the then 16-year-old girl had been admitted after she complained of stomach ache. Her parents kept the minor in the dark and told her that she was being operated upon for appendicitis. The incident came to light after Childline Kannur received an anonymous letter.
While Father Robin was the prime accused in the case, seven other accused had also been booked under POCSO for allegedly helping him cover up the incident. The other accused are Dr Nelliyani Thankamma who assisted in the childbirth, gynaecologist at Christu Raj hospital in Kannur Dr Tessy, paediatrician Dr Hyderali, hospital administrator Ancy Mathew, Dr Liz Maria and Sr. Anita from Christu Dasi convent in Wayanad. Sr. Ophilia, the Superintendent of the Holy infant Mary orphanage at Wayanad where the baby was taken. Sr Ophilia had approached the Kerala High Court seeking anticipatory bail.
While gynaecologists Dr Tessy and Dr Nellyali Thankamma allegedly agreed to deliver the baby, the hospital paediatrician – Dr Hyderali – had the baby discharged, following which Dr Nellayani, Dr Liz Maria and Sr. Anita from Christu Raj convent took the baby to Wayanad where they admitted the child to an orphanage.
Further investigation revealed that the accused had been protected by a network of Christian institutions who helped cover up the crime to save their own face. Police suspected this after facing ‘practical difficulties’ in arresting all the accused in the case.
Prior to surrendering before the Kannur police, four of the nuns who were accused of helping to cover up the incident had been absconding. They later surrendered before the police in March.
Church’s stoic silence
The church, for its part, maintained a stoic silence. After the Kerala government sacked Fr John Therakom from the post of post of Chairman of Child Welfare Committee (CWC) for allegedly helping to cover up the incident, the Archdiocese too later suspended him.
A shocking editorial column published by the Sunday Shalom – the church magazine – along with Kerala Bishops Council’s response to TNM at the time too reflected the Church refusal to implicate Fr. Robin and the other accused in the case. The editorial piece had gone as far as to victim blame the minor.
“Here the partner in the sin is more than 15 years old. Considering her in my daughter’s position I am saying, daughter you too went wrong. You will be the first one answerable before god. Why did you forget who a priest was? Why didn’t you know that the sanctity of a priest is equal to the holiness of Jesus’s heart. He has a human body, he can get temptations. If he might have forgot that for a few seconds, my child who has taken the holy communion, why didn’t you stop or correct him?” the article read.
The Bishops Council had dismissed the crime, stating that it was an “exception” among the 9033 catholic priests in Kerala. The council also placed blame on ‘consumerism’ and media.
Father Robin, who was posted at the Church run by Catholic Diocese of Mananthavady (Wayanad) in Kannur district almost two-and-a-half years ago, also served as the manager of a school attached to the church, where he came in contact with the survivor.