Catholic priest given 20 years imprisonment for raping minor in Kerala's Kottiyoor

The infamous Kottiyoor rape case came to light after the 17-year-old victim gave birth to a baby boy in a hospital controlled by the same parish.

A special court in Thalassery (north Kerala’s Kannur) on Saturday awarded 20-year rigorous imprisonment to Father Robin Vadkumcherry (51), a senior Catholic priest, for sexually assaulting a minor girl for more than four years.

However the court acquitted six others - four nuns, a priest, and an employee of the orphanage - who faced charges of covering up the crime for want of evidence. The Pocso (protection of children from sexual offences act) Court has also ordered criminal proceedings against the victim’s parents who turned hostile later.

Though the quantum of punishment is more than 60 years, the priest can serve it concurrently but the court made it clear it should not be less than 20 years. It also imposed a fine of Rs 3 lakh on the priest. The prosecution said it will appeal against the acquittal of six others. The trial and punishment came out in two years.

The infamous Kottiyoor rape case came to light after the 17-year-old victim gave birth to a baby boy in a hospital controlled by the same parish. After the delivery, the girl and new-born were shifted to an orphanage being run by the Mananthawady Archdiocese discreetly. Later, the victim’s father was forced to own up to the crime. Both, the victim and father, later admitted the crime to the police.

While the investigation was on, childline officials got a discreet phone call pointing to the priest’s involvement in the case and alerted the police. The police registered a case against the priest on February 27, 2017. A week later he was arrested while trying to flee to Canada. Though 10 persons were initially booked, two doctors and the administrator of the hospital where the victim gave birth were later removed from the accused list after they approached the Supreme Court saying they were not aware of the victim’s age. Six others were booked for helping the accused and covering up the crime.

During the trial, the victim, her parents and many witnesses turned hostile. There were also attempts to fudge the victim’s age so as to prove that she was a major when she gave birth to the child. At one point, the victim also told the court that she was in love with the priest and they had consensual sex. However, the prosecution relied fully on the statement of the government doctor and established that the girl was a minor and that the sexual relation, even if it had the consent of the minor, should be construed as rape. The DNA test also nailed the prime accused. The prosecution also succeeded in proving that the assault had been going on for more than four years.

The incident invited enough embarrassment to the church. Robin was the vicar of the St Sebastian church in Kottiyoor when the incident took place. Powerful in the community, he was a top contender for the post of bishop of the Mananthawady diocese of the Syro-Malabar church.

The Mananthawady diocese has welcomed the verdict and expressed much relief over the acquittal of the nuns and priest. Sister Lucy Kalapurakkal, who recently supported the agitation against deposed Jalandhar bishop Franco Mullakkal and is facing action, has lauded the verdict. “It will work as a deterrent against such offenders. Rather than covering up such heinous crimes, church should expose such elements,” she said.