Orthodox Church scandal: Two more priests surrender

KOTTAYAM: Two priests, accused of blackmailing and raping a woman parishioner for years, surrendered before the authorities on Monday, days after the Supreme Court cancelled the interim protection from arrest given to the two clergymen. The apex court had also asked Fr Abraham Varghese (Sony), the first accused in the case, and Fr Jaise K George, the fourth accused, to surrender by August 13.

The priests, attached to Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, were at large ever since the FIR was registered against them on July 2. Fr Varghese surrendered before Thiruvalla magistrate court and Fr George surrendered before the investigation officer at the Kollam crime branch office.

Fr Varghese has been remanded to judicial custody for 10 days. Though he moved a bail application in the court, it was rejected. The investigation team had submitted a bail objection report in the court. After medical tests, the first accused was taken to Pathanamthitta sub jail.

Fr George will be presented before Thiruvalla court on Tuesday morning. According to Josy Cherian, crime branch DSP, the probe team will approach the court for the custody of the clergymen. Earlier, Fr Job Mathew, second accused in the case, had turned himself in to the police in Kollam on July 12, and Fr Johnson V Mathew, the third accused, was arrested from his residence the following day.

 Crime branch has charged IPC Sections 354/354A (assault to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 376 (rape) against Fr Varghese, Fr George and Fr Job Mathew. Fr Johnson was exempted from the rape charge when the probe team submitted the FIR in the court, and has been booked under section 354/354A. The case was registered based on the statement of the woman complainant.
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church has been mired in controversy after the woman’s husband accused the priests of using her confession to blackmail and sexually abuse her.
The priests have been relieved from their church duties temporarily.

Key accused surrenders

Father Abraham Varghese, aka Soni, of Mundiyappally, the key accused in the sexual abuse case involving four clergymen of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, has surrendered before the Judicial First Class Magistrate at Thiruvalla on Monday.

The court sent him to judicial custody for 10 days.

The Crime Branch team investigating the case had earlier arrested two other accused, Father Job Mathew and Father Johnson V. Mathew. Another accused, Father Jaise K. George, who surrendered before a court in Kollam on Monday, will be brought to the JFMC, Thiruvalla, on Tuesday, according to police sources.

The Crime Branch had registered the case against the four clergymen on July 2 on the basis of statements given by a homemaker accusing them of sexually assaulting her on more than one occasion.

All the four priests are facing the charges of sexual harassment.

The homemaker had reportedly stated before the Crime Branch team that Father Abraham Varghese had sexually exploited her when she was only 16 years old. She had approached Father Jaise K. George for counselling. But the clergyman misused her confessional secrets to sexually exploit her, police source said, referring to her statements.

The investigating officer, Sabu Mathew, said the Crime Branch would move the court, seeking custody of all the four priests for further interrogation.