Tuesday, 24 July 2018 | VR Jayaraj | Kochi

The Kerala High Court on Monday granted bail to Fr Johnson V Mathew, one of the four priests of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church who have been accused of sexually exploiting a young woman by blackmailing her using her confession secret.

Fr Johnson Mathew of the Thumpamon Diocese of the Church, third accused in the case, has been charged with outraging the modesty of woman and using obscene language to her while the other three priests have been slapped with the charges of rape, using threats to exploit the victim sexually and outraging the modesty of woman.

The court granted bail to the accused priest, who was arrested on July 14 from his house at Kozhanchery in Pathanamthitta district, considering his counsel’s submission that he had not been charged with rape, that he had not sexually exploited the victim and that he had only sent some mobile messages via WhatsApp to her.

As per the conditions for his bail, he should surrender his passport before the trial court in Thiruvalla, Pathanamthitta. He should appear before the investigators twice every week and should not enter Pathanamthitta, the native district of the victim. He had moved the High Court after a court in Thiruvalla turned down his bail plea last week.

Fr Job Mathew of the Niranam Diocese of the Church, second accused in the case arrested on July 12, has also approached the High Court for bail. The court is expected to consider his application on Tuesday. He has been accused of raping the woman by threatening to reveal her Confession secret – that another priest had raped her before her marriage – to her husband.

The Supreme Court has directed the State Police’s Crime Branch probing the case not to arrest the other two accused, Fr Abraham Varghese (Sony) of the Niranam Diocese of the Orthodox and Fr Jaise K George of its Delhi Diocese, till it pronounced its verdict on their anticipatory bail applications.

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, first accused Fr Abraham Varghese (Sony), who was her neighbor 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. She had shared the story of her ordeals with Fr Johnson V Mathew, an old friend, but he made lustful approaches to her using morphed photographs, she told the investigators.

Fr Jaise K George, fourth accused in the case, had exploited her sexually after she described her experiences to him in a counseling session but he also used it to exploit her sexually, according to the woman. She said the Delhi-based priest had raped her several times at a luxury hotel in Kochi and he had even made her pay the hefty hotel bills.