The Kuruvilangad Police in Kerala’s Kottayam district on Monday registered a case against a Catholic priest after he allegedly tried to influence a witness in a rape case.

Meanwhile, James Erthayil has been asked to step down from his position as prior of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate hermitage. The congregation issued a statement on Monday describing Erthayil’s behaviour as unfortunate and said that the “church has nothing to do with the alleged offers made,” The News Minute reported. The statement said an inquiry has been initiated.

In a leaked audio conversation of a purported phone call between Erthayil and the nun Anupama, the priest is heard threatening and attempting to bribe her in exchange of withdrawing the rape complaint against Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mullackal. The call was first broadcast by Asianet.

Anupama is a member of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation in Kottayam, and was one of the five nuns who came out in solidarity with the 44-year-old nun who accused Mullackal of rape, The News Minute reported.

The taped conversation

The priest is purportedly heard warning the nun about threats she and the other nuns would face if they persist in upholding their complaint. “I have gotten information, not that anyone directly spoke to me, that they would buy some 10 acres of land and build a convent to accommodate some eight-10 nuns,” the man is heard saying. The priest purportedly claims that the Jalandhar diocese would sponsor the cost of building the shelter when she questions him about the sponsor.

“If you go to any of the convents in Orissa or Assam, you can get threats,” he is heard saying. “But instead if you move away from all this and go to another convent headed by an independent bishop, then there will not be threats.”

The case

On June 27, a nun filed a police complaint accusing Mulakkal of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. She said she had no choice but to go to the police after church authorities ignored her complaints and took no action against the priest. Denying the charges, Mulakkal has accused the nun of taking revenge on him for ordering an inquiry into a complaint that she was having an affair.

The bishop filed a complaint against the victim and five other nuns accusing them of framing him. The police booked Mulakkal for allegedly sexually assaulting the nun.