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The Sinners

The pastors who committed sex crimes...

The Sinners
outlookindia.com
2017-01-21T12:11:37+0530

  • Accused: Fr Edwin Figarez, 41
  • Victim: 14-year-old girl, unnamed
  • Crime: Rape
  • Place: Lourde Matha Church Presbytery, Puthenvelikkara
    April 1, 2015
  • Legal status: Double life imprisonment awarded by the lower court

T.M. Varghese, former circle inspector of Vadakkekara who handled the case, narrates the sequence: “The mother registered a complaint with us on April 1, 2015. One day in March, the girl went to the church near their home. When she failed to return for a long time, the mother went over and found her in the presbytery. On being questioned, the girl revealed she had been sexually exploited by the priest for several months. We investigated his background, his reputation was not good. There are allegations that he was in trouble at the previous parish too.”

Figarez’s FB account has been deleted, but his Twitter account is an active commentary on himself. At the time he was preying on a minor, he was also exhorting people to pray. Figarez, who calls himself a dhyana guru, was producing music CDs. His tweets are littered with videos of him singing, saying the mass. His tagline states: “What I am is God’s gift. What I become is my gift to God.” Says Varghese, “He had a special ability to impress people. He left for the Gulf the day the complaint was filed. He returned after he got a special leave not to be arrested for a few days and soon went about spinning the story that the victim’s mother used to write love letters to him, which he rejected and so she had retaliated with this accusation.” Sandhya Rani, special prosecutor, POCSO, says Figarez had groomed the girl before raping her and cites the Ernakulam court’s remark on how Figarez had, unconscionably, gone to the extent of attributing bad character to the victim.


 

  • Accused: Fr Raju Kokken, 40
  • Victim: 9-year-old girl, unnamed
  • Crime: Rape; photographing of genitals
  • Place: St Paul’s Church, Thaikkattusserry, Thrissur district
    April 8, 2014
  • Legal status: In the lower courts, Thrissur. Raju Kokken on bail.

After luring the minor girl to the presbytery where he lived, it is alleged that Fr Kokken, then parish vicar, made her undress and took pictures of her genitals on his mobile. Based on the mother’s complaint, the Ollur police registered a case against him under the IPC, POCSO and IT Acts. He is now on bail, and believed to be working in a home for leprosy patients in Thrissur district. Both ecclesiastical courts and civil courts have yet to decide his case. He is believed to have said he was framed.


Photograph by Raju Prasad
  • Accused: Fr Benedict Onamkulam
  • Victim: Mariakutty, 43
  • Crime: Murder
  • Place: A forested area in Mannamaruthy, Ranni
    June 15, 1966
  • Legal status: HC overturns death sentence, acquits priest

It was on June 16, 1966, that Mariakutty was found with her neck slit from ear to ear, her upper body exposed and stab wounds on her abdomen and chest on an estate near Ranni. Mariakutty’s daughter and mother identified the body through photographs on June 19. Mariakutty had left home, saying she was going to meet the father in Changanacherry. Fr Benedict Onamkulam, who was 37 then, was the manager of St Joseph’s Orphanage and Press at Changanacherry. He was earlier the parish priest of the Chakrakadavu church in Alappuzha, where Mariakutty lived. She had four children and her husband was paralysed so she would visit the parish priest for charity provisions of wheat and milk powder.

The story goes that she gave birth to the fifth child soon after the priest was transferred to Changanacherry. She continued to visit him twice a month, taking her youngest son Joymon on all her visits. She had made it known to the family and outsiders that the priest was giving her money to live substantially well. According to her mother and daughter (in the court records), she did not take Joymon with her when she went to visit the priest the last time.  Many eyewitnesses saw them proceeding to Mannamaruthy around 11.30 pm and many others saw him return alone in the wee hours. The death sentence by the Kollam sessions court rested on these witness identifications.


  • Accused: Fr Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, 61
  • Victim: Unidentified
  • Crime: Rape/ Sexual Molestation
  • Place: Crookston, Minnesota
  • Legal Status: Served sentence. Now under supervision. Not allowed to work with children.

According to the website for Jeff Anderson & Associates, attorney for the victim, their client was raped by Fr Joseph Jeyapaul for a period of one year between 2004 and 2005 when he was serving in the diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, US. In 2005, he molested another minor. When allegations surfaced about his conduct, Jeyapaul left for India. In October 2005, Bishop Balke of the Diocese of Crookston notified Fr Jeyapaul’s home diocese of Ootacamund (Ooty) and referred it to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, but no action was taken in response to his letters. Instead, Fr Jeyapaul was named as secretary of the diocese education commission. Under pressure, though, the diocese later suspended him from ministerial duties. In 2007, a criminal complaint was filed against Fr Jeyapaul in the US. In 2014, he was extradited to face charges. Jeyapaul pleaded guilty to criminal conduct involving the sexual abuse of a minor girl. In 2015, he returned to India after serving his sentence.

On January 16, 2016, with the permission of Pope Francis, Bishop A. Amalraj of Ooty lifted the suspension on Fr Jeyapaul. After learning of his return to ministry, the victim filed a federal lawsuit on April 18, 2016, alleging nuisance against the Diocese of Ootacamund for returning Jeyapaul to active ministry and exposing innocent children in India to his predatory ways—and won a small victory. Barbara Dorris, outreach director of The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), described it thus in an email to Outlook: “His suspension was lifted and a brave victim filed a lawsuit and won. Jeyapaul is not to be put back into work with children. He is to be supervised and church officials are to give updates. None of this would have happened without the victim finding the courage and the strength to take action. Once again, it has been left to the victims to work to protect other children.” Dorris also wrote that it is almost impossible to estimate the number of priests from India who have been accused of sexual misconduct and returned to India. Often when a priest fears he may be accused, he pre-empts it by simply returning to his home country and the allegations are never made public. Children and even many adults are often afraid or otherwise unwilling to talk about the abuse and carry the secret for decades. The Bishop of Ooty was not available for comment.

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