By Matters India Reporter
New Delhi: The Malankara Orthodox Church has confirmed that it has received a complaint against five priests for allegedly sexually exploiting a married woman.
On June 25, the Kottayam-based Church temporarily suspended the five priests and asked to go on leave. Its press release confirmed receiving a complaint from the woman’s husband.
The scandal broke out after an audio clip of the husband began circulating on social media.
The man, a member of the Church, had complained that the five priests used confessional secrets to blackmail the woman.
Although the scandal went viral on social media mid-June, the Church leaders did not respond for days. This led to protests from other Church members.
Three priests belong to Niranam diocese and one priest each from Thumpamon and Delhi dioceses.
The press release said a probe has been ordered and that the Church will not protect those who indulge in wrongdoing. The Church will punish the priests if their guilt is proven. However, the innocent persons will not be punished, it added.
The release says that directions will be issued to other priests in the Church to stand firm on values and to function with dependence on God.
In the audio clip, the husband of the woman, a resident of Thiruvalla, alleges that his wife began facing the abuse even before they were married. However, it took a turn for the worse after she told this to another priest during a confession, which is supposed to be kept a secret.
The second priest not only began sexually exploiting her, but passed on the information to three other priests, including one based in Delhi. The woman was subjected to more exploitation that continued for years.
All the five priests allegedly kept in touch with her over phone and social media, without the other priests knowing about the affair.
The woman’s husband came to know about it in February after the Delhi-based priest flew down to Kochi to meet her at a five-star hotel, where the room was booked using the woman’s debit card.
When confronted by her husband, the woman narrated the years of blackmail she had gone through at the hands of the five priests.
The leaked audio clip is a purported conversation between the husband and a Church official.
The man says he did not want to defame the Church but alleged that his wife has not yet divulged the complete details. According to him, at least 5-8 priests were involved.
“I am told that at best the bishop will suspend them for six months. I am not going to settle for that. I want their ordinations to be revoked and they removed from the church,” the man is heard saying in the clip.
He also alleged that ever since he went public with the allegations, many influential people in the Church have tried to threaten and pacify him to withdraw the complaint.
However, a police complaint is yet to be registered.
A Church spokesman said some allegations were “very old” and questioned why there was no complaint if the alleged exploitation was happening for years.
Priests in the Orthodox Church are allowed to marry unlike those in the Catholic Church.