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Catholic Church in Kerala rocked by child abuse scandal

On 28th of last month, Father Robin Vaddakumchiryil (48), the vicar of St Sebastian church in Kottiyoor was arrested on the charges of sexually assaulting a minor girl. He was charged under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, which provisions for denying bail until the trial is over.

The victim, 16 at that time, was a student of IJM Higher Secondary School, Kottiyoor, where Father Robin was the manager. The incident, which occurred sometime in May 2016, came to light only after the victim gave birth to a child last month. On February 25, child line received an anonymous letter with details of the occurrence which then tipped the police.

Father Robin, who first tried to flee the country, has reportedly confessed to the crime. He had maintained a public life with carefully crafted image, having spoken against child abuse in the past. He was even invited as a chief guest at an event organised to create awareness about crime against children.

The Father also worked with some local media houses and tried everything to cover-up the incident.

Most shockingly, in order to save the church and the priest, the father of the child falsely admitted to raping his own daughter. It was only after he was arrested he realized the seriousness of the crime and spilled the beans. The family has denied that have accepted money from Father Robin to hush up the incident.

Now it turns out that Father Robin was a habitual offender against whom allegations of sexual abuse had kept surfacing over the years, yet he continued to occupy high positions in the church and in pubic eyes. Even the role of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of Wayanad district has been called into question. It has been alleged that the committee was constituted by those who protected the Church’s interests. It is also being alleged that child abuse is rampant in Kerala’s catholic sabhas.

Following these revelations and allegations, Kerala Government has disbanded the CWC of Wayanad district. As it turns out, the chairman of that CWC, Father Thomas Joseph Therakom, and a committee member Sister Betty Jose, are one of those accused of covering the child abuse incident. Father Therakom was also accused of helping the rape accuse Father Robin in fleeing the country. Both Father Therakom and Sister Jose who were absconding were among the three who surrendered on Friday 17th March.

The attempt to save the Father also came from authorities of the hospital where the minor gave birth to the child. The authorities helped in shifting the baby to a Foundling home on the same day of the birth. The CWC though didn’t record this development till 20th February and also signed a placement order without any verification. The superintendent of the Foundling home also surrendered with them.

The others accused in the case like a gynecologist, two nuns, an administrator, and a pediatrician are still absconding.

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