SC expresses shock over Kerala priests’ role in sex crimes
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SC expresses shock over Kerala priests’ role in sex crimes

The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed shock at the alleged involvement of Kerala priests in sex crimes.

While hearing the Kottiyoor sex scandal case, which involves the alleged rape of a minor by a Catholic priest, a Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan made this observation. The Kottiyoor case involves the rape of a minor girl in a church by a priest in Kottiyoor, Kerala in 2016. The minor girl later gave birth in 2017 and immediately the child was handed over to a foundling home.

“It is disturbing that cases of rape and sexual assault come from churches in Kerala recently,” the court said. “This is shocking to see such cases involving priests,” Justice Sikri observed. The same Bench is also hearing an anticipatory bail plea of some other priests who are accused of rape of a married woman.

The Supreme Court bench, however, discharged the two doctors and a hospital administrator, accused under the anti-child sex abuse law of covering up the rape of the minor in the Kottiyoor case. The trio, Sister Tessy Jose a gynaecologist, Hyder Ali a paediatrician, and Sister Ancy Mathew of Christraj Hospital, represented by senior advocate Basant R. and Advocates Raghunath Basant and Mithun Verghis, won full relief from the apex court and will not have to face trial.

The trio had moved the apex court against a Kerala High Court order for them to stand trial under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act, 2012, for not reporting to the police when they had come in contact with the child rape survivor.

The state of Kerala through senior counsel K N Balagopal and Vipin Nair argued that the accused number 3, Gynaecologist (Dr Sr Tessy Jose), accused number 4 Paediatrician (Hyder Ali) and accused number 5 administrator (Ancy Mathew) were also directly involved in the trafficking of the infant because they knew from the beginning that Father Robin (accused number 1) has raped the victim when she was a minor and hence after the infant was born, the hospital wanted to cover it up for the accused number 1.

It was also argued that as per the charge sheet, the aforesaid accused had this knowledge, as there were telephonic conversations between the doctors and the other accused persons. It was also asserted that the doctors had directed the victim’s mother not to reveal the details of the offence to anyone. The State of Kerala had vehemently opposed the trio’s plea to quash the case against them. The State counsel K.N. Balagopal had argued that the accused in the case were influential people. The prosecution pointed out how the biological father of the victim was framed in the crime. In fact, the allegation is that the biological father was asked to take responsibility for committing the crime. He later, confessed to the police about the alleged involvement of the priest and prime accused, Father Robin Vadakumcherry, in the rape of the 16-year-old girl.

Senior counsel R Basant, who appeared for the two doctors and the administrator sought for the discharge of the three accused from the trial under the POCSO Act. He argued that these three accused had no direct link with the offence and that they should be discharged. "If the doctors are also included in the offences under the POCSO Act, knowingly or unknowingly, it would set a wrong precedent and could create a situation where they don't provide timely medical assistance," he pointed out.

The Bench found no basis in the case against them, especially when the mother of the victim had recorded the latter’s age as 18 in the hospital records. Besides, the court said any and everybody who happened to come in contact with the victim as part of their professional duties cannot be charged.

The court however refused to discharge the two other accused Fr. Thomas Therakan (Chairman, Child Welfare Committee) and Sister Betty Jose (Member) after the state pointed out that they had knowledge that the baby was kept in the Foundling Home and had not taken any steps to surrender the child under the Juvenile Justice Act and dismissed their appeal.