A Kerala court on Thursday denied bail to two priests of the influential Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church who were arrested last week for allegedly exploiting a young woman sexually by blackmailing her using her confession secret. The priests, who are currently in remand in judicial custody, said they would approach the High Court for bail.

A total of four Orthodox Church priests are accused in the case and the remaining two are still in hiding. The Supreme Court on Thursday deferred their anticipatory bail applications for orders with the stipulation that the police should not arrest them till it pronounced its decision.

The Judicial First Class Magistrate Court in Thiruvalla, Pathanamthitta district rejected the bail applications of second accused Fr Job Mathew and third accused Fr Johnson V Mathew by observing that the charges against them were of extremely serious nature and that the case against them was maintainable.

Stating that there were evidences prima facie against the accused priests, the court said granting them bail at this stage would send out a wrong message to  society. It also said that there was every possibility that the priests would try to influence the witnesses and that they might go into hiding if released on bail.

The Kerala Police’s Crime Branch probing the case recorded the arrest of Fr Job Mathew from the Niranam Diocese of the Orthodox Church on July 12 after the High Court rejected his anticipatory bail plea the previous day.  All the four priests accused of sexually abusing the woman from Thiruvalla had gone into hiding after the Crime Branch booked them.

Fr Johnson V Mathew of the Thumpamon diocese of the Church was arrested from his house in Kozhanchery, Pathanamthitta on July 13. The other two priests involved in the case are first accused Fr Abraham Varghese (Sony) of the Niranam Diocese and fourth accused Fr Jaise K George, Assistant Vicar at the Janakpuri parish church under the Delhi Diocese.

While the first, second and fourth accused have been charged with rape and outraging modesty of woman, the third accused has been charged with outraging modesty of woman only. According to the victim’s statements to the police and before a magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC, she had been undergoing sexual exploitation by the priests since 1999.

The sex scandal rocking the Orthodox Syrian Church erupted last month after an audio clip containing a purported conversation between the woman’s husband and a Church official in which the former alleged sexual abuse of his wife by the priests came out through social media. He said the priests had sexually abused his wife by blackmailing her with her confession secret.

According to the woman’s own statements to the Crime Branch and before the court, Fr Abraham Varghese, who was her neighbour then, had sexually exploited her first in 1999 when she was only 17 and unmarried by promising to marry her and he had continued to exploit her even after her marriage by threatening to disclose the matter to her husband. The woman had revealed this in her Confession to Fr Job Mathew, her parish priest then, after her marriage but he used this secret to rape her by threatening to disclose it to her husband.