The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in Kerala sent five priests on leave on Monday following allegations that they blackmailed and sexually abused a woman for three years.
“The five priests have been asked to keep away from officiating all priestly duties and function as head of parishes,” the church’s working committee member and priests’ trustee, Father MO John, told The Indian Express. “They are not under suspension. Their fate would be decided only after the inquiry report.”
Three of the priests belonged to the Niranam diocese in Kerala, another to the state’s Pandalam diocese. The fifth priest was from the Delhi diocese, according to the Hindustan Times. The church is headquartered in Kottayam.
In a letter to the church, the woman’s husband, from Tiruvalla in Kottayam district, claimed that the priests used his wife’s confession, which is meant to be a secret under church laws, to blackmail her. He named eight people in the letter and sought action against them.
According to a leaked audio clip, purportedly of a conversation between the man and a church official, the man said that his wife was sexually abused by a priest before she got married. After the woman confessed this to another priest, he also began abusing her, the man claimed, adding that the priest then passed on the information to three of his colleagues, who exploited her too. He is also reportedly heard saying that celebrities from the church are forcing him to not escalate the matter.
A church spokesperson told the Hindustan Times that they would file a police complaint if the allegations, which are reportedly “very old”, have any substance.
However, Father John told The Indian Express that the complaint does “not deserve” a police investigation. “In the complaint, the husband said one priest had abused his wife 380 times,” he was quoted as saying. “What were [they] doing until the figure reached 380? That is why the husband was not keen to move a police complaint.”
He claimed there was “no substance” in the allegation that the woman was trapped during confession, and claimed that the woman had had affairs with three different priests since her teenage years.