By Matters India Reporter
New Delhi: The Kerala police on July 30 registered a case against a Catholic priest who allegedly offered a deal to scrap a rape case against a bishop.
The police action came after the family of a Kerala-based nun alleged that Father James Erthayil had telephoned her offering “land, building and safety” if she withdrew the case against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar, a diocese in Punjab.
Bishop Mulakkal was accused of sexually abusing another nun 13 times between 2014 and 2016. She went to the police after the bishop filed a complaint against her and five others, accusing them of threatening and blackmailing him.
The bishop, who has been booked for rape by Kerala police, has claimed innocence and said he is a victim of vendetta for taking disciplinary action against the nun.
Father Erthayil reportedly telephoned Sister Anupama another nun who supports the rape survivor. He now faces a non-bailable case threatening Anupama and offering her inducement to withdraw the case.
The police are investigating the audio of the alleged phone call to Sister Anupama. The authenticity of the leaked audio could not be verified independently, but the priest’s congregation, Carmelites of Mary Immaculate congregation, has already taken action him.
The congregation has termed the incident unfortunate and clarified that it has nothing to do with the priest’s alleged offer of land to nuns.
“Father James has been asked to step down. An enquiry has been initiated,” the congregation was quoted by ndtv.com as saying.
The congregation removed the priest from his post as the superior of their house in Kurianadu. Later he was suspended as the manager of a school in Idukki district, mathrubhumi.com reported.
Meanwhile the Jalandhar diocese has denied that it has asked anyone to mediate in the case. “We have not appointed any mediator or plan to appoint one. Such news is an attempt by a wicked mind to thwart the probe,” Father Thomas Poochalil, secretary of the diocese, said in a press note.
He said they have seen news items about attempts to get the allegations against the head of Jalandhar diocese withdrawn through a mediator. “They are absolutely baseless and mere tactics to divert the investigation into the case,” he said.
Father Poochalil also said the diocese wants the real truth to come out after proper investigation and the guilty punished, hence it would never support any move to divert attention.
According to the audio clip in Malayalam language, circulated in social media and telecast on TV channels, the priest had telephoned Anupama for 11 minutes. After introducing himself to the 30-year-old nun he says: “We can buy some land, build a convent and shift you all there safely. This won’t happen tomorrow but everything has a time. We can think about it.”
He also speaks about threats if the woman doesn’t withdraw her complaint.
“If you all are adamant on your stand, this won’t happen. If you withdraw your complaint and go to one of your convents in Odisha, Andhra, threats may arise. But if you move independently and go under some other Bishop, there won’t be any threats. It will be good if you think about this and if you decide to do this positively, I will help you in any way possible. I can’t do everything, but will help in whatever I can do. In the sense that we can buy some land, build a house, shift them. They will support. I suggested this because they have said they will support,” he says.
The nun asks who will “support” the family, the Jalandhar Diocese? He answers with a “yes”.
“If we have to buy 10 acres of land and build a decent building for everyone, it’s not easy. So they will help, but their condition is that this case must be withdrawn,” he explains.
The nun refuses the offer and tells him they won’t withdraw any case. “We must get justice. We don’t desire to lose any life, or sell our dignity,” she says.
The priest then tries to persuade her and says, “I’ve understood the situation. I respect your feeling. I was just giving my suggestion. So they are actually thinking about buying some land for this in Erumely and Ranni area. So in that case, you can stay in that compound itself.”
“We have got the audio. We have taken the statement of the nun. We will file a case today after verifying the authenticity of the audio and establishing the identity of the priest,” top police sources told NDTV.
Speaking to NDTV, the family of the nun said, “We have been waiting for justice from the church. When the church failed to offer any help, we were forced to go to the police. We are not worried about the lives of our children. When someone becomes a nun or priest, they are willing to lay down everything for Christ. But there are many Judas’ in the church, ready to betray Christ and people.”