A panel set up by Kerala’s Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church to inquire into allegations of sexual abuse against five priests is yet to meet the woman despite receiving the complaint from her husband on May 7.

“We met the husband of the woman and the priests,” said MO John, a senior priest who is a member of the panel comprising priests and lawyers. “We have not got the opportunity to talk to the victim yet.”

John, who is part of the church’s working committee, did not provide any reason for the delay in meeting the woman. He said the inquiry panel’s report will be submitted by the end of July. “Two months is not a long time,” he said. “We need time to verify the facts and arrive at a conclusion.”

The church confirmed the complaint only on Monday and relieved the priests of their duties. Four of them were attached to the dioceses in Niranam and Thumpamon, both in Kerala, and the other to the Delhi diocese. They have all been asked to go on leave.

The complainant, who is from Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta district, has accused the priests of using his wife’s confession to blackmail and sexually abuse her for several years.

On Monday, he alleged the church was delaying action on his complaint. He told The Times of India that he filed the complaint to the head of the Niranam diocese on May 7, marking copies to leaders of other dioceses, and appeared before the inquiry panel on June 22.

Meanwhile, an audio recording of the woman’s husband purportedly discussing the allegations with an acquaintance has been doing the rounds of social media for the last two days. He is heard saying that a priest had abused his wife before marriage. “When she confessed it to another priest, he too began to abuse her, threatening to disclose the entire episode to me,” he continues. “This priest took her photos and shared them with another priest, who also abused her later. They kept circulating her videos around. At least eight priests are involved in this gang.”

Scroll.in could not verify the authenticity of the conversation.

No police case

Though the allegations are serious, neither the victim nor the church has complained to the police so far. Senior officials confirmed that no police station in Pathanamthitta has received a complaint of sexual abuse against any priest.

The church’s secretary Biju Oommen said the internal inquiry is enough to “find out the truth”. “It consists of eminent lawyers and senior priests,” he added. “They won’t make any mistakes.”

The investigation is going in the “right direction”, Oommen said, and pointed out that the church “asked the priests to go on leave soon after the allegations became public”.

John said the woman’s husband was averse to filing a police complaint. “We told him he was free to register a complaint if he so wished,” John said. “But he was reluctant. He wants the church to take a decision.”

Scroll.in could not reach the husband despite repeated attempts.

John promised a fair inquiry. “We are here to conduct a fair investigation,” he said. “We will hear the complainant, the victim and the priests before taking a decision. We will not protect the guilty.”

If the priests are found guilty, he added, they would face the punishment prescribed by the law of the land. “But we will take them back if they prove their innocence,” he said.

Asked why the church took over a month to relieve the priests from their duties, he said, “It is not that we deliberately delayed the decision. We took it after high-level consultations.”