An Indian court has convicted a senior Catholic priest of raping a minor and sentenced him to 20 years in jail, the latest sexual assault scandal involving the Church in southern Kerala state.
Robin Vadakkumchery was found guilty on Saturday of raping a 16-year-old schoolgirl, with the crime only coming to light after the victim gave birth to a baby in a surprise delivery in February 2017.
Citing a lack of evidence, the court acquitted four nuns, a priest and an orphanage employee who had been accused of trying to cover up the crime and shield the influential Vadakkumchery.
After a child rights charity reported the secret delivery to the police, leading to the priest’s arrest at Kochi airport as he attempted to board a plane to Canada, many of the main witnesses in the case turned hostile.
“Almost all the independent witnesses proved noncooperative, making it difficult for us to provide substantive evidence against all that the defence threw at us,” Inspector Sunil Kumar, who investigated the case, told AFP.
In the initial stages of the trial, the girl’s father had told the court that he was guilty of raping and impregnating his own daughter.
Her mother also claimed the girl was older than 18 when the crime occurred.
His daughter told the court that the relationship was consensual and said she had been an adult at the time.
Only the doctor’s official record of when the baby was born could prove that the girl had been a minor at the time of delivery, said Kumar.
“Luckily for us, the doctor who delivered the baby … stood his ground, so we could prove without doubt that the victim was a minor at the time,” he said.
The victim had been a student at a Church-run school which came under Vadakkumchery’s jurisdiction.