Sins of the Fathers: Savio Rodrigues writes on sexual violence in churches and other religious institutions

Earlier this week, we had reported how five Kerala priests were accused of sexually harassing a married woman. Savio Rodrigues, former senior Congress leader from Goa, who resigned after the Goa election debauchery today expressed his shock and disgust at fact that a police complaint hasn’t been filed.

He took to Goa Chronicles, a publication he owns, to question whether Church is above the law of the land. His column has been produced here in totality with due permission.

I am shocked and absolutely disgusted to read media report about the horrible plight of a married woman in Kerala sexually abused by five priests of Malankara Orthodox Church. The priests used details of a confession (a religious sacrament of the Church which is highly confidential) to blackmail the woman to succumb to the sexual abuse.

These priests in the eyes of the people that follow the tenets of the Christian religion are ordained ministers who are to be channels of communications and graces of God. Yet in light of this heinous crime and the shadows of the numerous cases of child sexual abuses by priests globally one is left wondering about the responsibilities of the Church to its followers.

Since knowledge of the crime, the Malankar Orthodox Church has been conducting its own investigations on the allegations of the victim. Interestingly they have decided to not inform the local police authorities of such a serious sexual crime. In fact the Church opined through its spokesperson that it was inquiring into the allegations raised against some priests through the established procedures of the Church. He further stated, that the Church is conducting a clear, impartial inquiry into the allegations.

The question I would like to raise is that in an act of sexual violence – the religious character of the perpetrators being kept aside – does the Church or any religious institution have any right to conduct an independent inquiry and not report the matter to the local police authorities. Is the Church law above the law of the nation? This is clearly the point of defiance of the Church to conduct its own investigation before reporting the matter to the local police. The Church had claimed to have suspended the priests from performance of religious duties but that act in itself is such a hogwash because the truth is that they were asked to go on leave and not suspended. The truth of the matter is that the Church has no legal authority to decide the course of action against a crime, that is the duty of the law and order machinery of the nation.

The act of the Priests of the Church conducting this internal inquiry is condemnable and they must be charged with crime of failure to report this crime and deliberately obstruct the natural course of justice. The five priests responsible for the sexual abuse of the women, if found guilty of the allegations must be tried as rapists in the nation’s court of law.

It has now been learnt through media reports that the Church has passed the buck to lodge a complaint on the victim and her family with the local police station. Spokesperson for the Church told media that what is the need for them to go to the police as they have instituted an internal committee and are conducting an inquiry; we will not protect the priests if they are found guilty but we have to complete our inquiry. If the complainant wants to go the police, she can do so. We will complete our inquiry.

The Church has been in recent past has been known to cover-up its heinous crimes of sexual abuses by priests on children and not report the matter to local police authorities – this is a global phenomenon. It appears to be a similar precedent being followed in India. The audacity of the Church to not report the matter to the local police authorities raises serious questions on whether Indian laws are applicable to the crimes committed by the leaders of the Church. So far even after media reports, the local Kerala government and police have failed to take cognisance of the sexual abuse crime.

Interestingly one of the five accused priests belongs to the Archdiocese of Delhi according to media reports. Not to long ago the Archbishop Anil Couto of the Archdiocese of Delhi raised alarm bells that India’s democracy and constitution is under threat and we need to pray for a new government. I openly question the leaders of the Church in India and Archbishop Couto what is his stand as the leader of the Church on the allegations of this heinous crime and under what law of the constitution of this country does a sexual crime against a women has to first be investigated by a Church Internal Committee and not the local police authorities. Are not human rights of this lady trampled by the keepers of God’s word? Is it now a Christian under threat from a Christian religious leader? And most importantly will they condemn the crime like they condemned the alleged attack on democracy.

I am reminded of a beautiful verse in the Holy Bible to share with the Church leaders, “Not all who say Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of God but those who do the will of God”.

Savio Rodrigues, known for his extremely forthcoming views, had earlier also slammed Archbishop who appealed to ‘save India from nationalist forces’ and has been a very vocal critic of communal propaganda by the Catholic Church.

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