The Kerala High Court on Wednesday reduced the punishment of a former Roman Catholic priest who was convicted of raping and impregnating a woman in 2016 when she was a minor, reported Bar and Bench.

Justice R Narayana Pisharadi reduced the sentence of Robin Vadakkamcherry of the St Sebastian Church from 20 years of rigorous imprisonment to 10 years. Vadakkamcherry had filed a review petition of a trial court’s order that had sentenced him.

The judge altered Vadakkamcherry’s conviction under under Section 376 (2)(f) to offences under Section 376(1) of the Indian Penal Code.

“Section 376 (2)(f) of the Indian Penal Code is attracted when a person who being a relative, guardian or teacher of, or a person in a position of trust or authority towards the woman, commits rape on such woman,” the judge said.

He added: “Merely for the reason that the appellant/accused was the priest/vicar of the local church, it cannot be found that he had held any position of trust or authority towards the victim girl.”

While Section 376(1) lays down the provisions for punishment for rape under which jail sentence can be awarded between seven and 10 years, subsection 2 details conditions for punishment when a person of authority, including police officers and public servants, take advantage of their position. This subsection calls for imprisonment for rigorous imprisonment not less than 10 years.

In its order, the High Court concurred the charges and conviction under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences, or POCSO, Act. The judge told the former priest to pay a fine of Rs 1 lakh, failing which he would have to undergo one more year of rigorous imprisonment.

While Vadakkamcherry had raped and impregnated the woman in 2016, the incident came to light in 2017 when the minor gave birth. He had sexually assaulted her while he was serving as a parish priest under Mananthavady Catholic diocese in Kerala.

During the former priest’s trial in 2018, the woman had turned hostile and told the court that she had consensual sex with the priest. The woman had also said that she wanted to marry Vadakkamcherry and claimed that she was not a minor when the incident took place.

The complainant’s father had initially claimed that he had raped his own daughter. The father’s statement was made under duress from the former priest, according to The Indian Express. He later changed his statement.

Vadakkumcherry had also filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking suspension of his sentence to marry the woman, reported Live Law. However, the Supreme Court had rejected the plea.