Vatican Reinstates Molestor: Not The First Time The Church Has Done A Cover-Up

Aravindan Neelakandan

May 11, 2016, 4:09 am

(Published 18 Feb 2016)


Away from the glare of national and international media, Vatican?s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reinstated as priest Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul. The sequence of events that preceded this reinstatement is a curious one.

In 2004, Catholic clergyman Jeyapaul was sent to the diocese of Crookton in Minnesota. By 2006, the diocese had received two complaints of sexual abuse of minors by the priest. A criminal complaint was filed accusing him of sexual assault. He then fled back to India and was allowed to work here. The accused priest was given a powerful position, that of the Secretary of the Diocese of Ootacamund?s Education Commission.

According to the lawyer representing one of his victims, the only ones who knew about him being a rapist were the bishop and the Vatican, and this was kept a secret. It was only in 2010, because of pressure from the US that the Archbishop of Madras Mylapore asked Jeyapaul to return to the US to face the charges. Eventually Jeyapaul was arrested but only in 2012. He was sentenced to a year in jail, but was freed on account of time served while awaiting trial. The priest returned to India five months ago, and the process to lift the suspension was started at once.

What we have here thus, is an institutionalized scandal fortified by those laws in India which encourage educational apartheid which favours religious minorities.
Here are some cases:

Case number 1

On 3 September, 2006, the All India Scheduled Class Youth Federation gave a petition to the police officials of Salem district requesting them to conduct investigations into the alleged ?suicide? of a Dalit girl student of Omallur Fatima Girls Higher Secondary school. The dead body of the girl, who was staying in the school hostel, was found in a well near the school. However blood and broken bangles along with condoms and liquor bottles were also found on the campus. This led to some suspicions amongst the public.

In the press conference which followed, the Catholic Bishop of Salem diocese stated that the blood was that of some rat bitten by a cat. When an obliging DMK minister requested the school authorities to at least transfer their staff in order to pacify the agitated crowd the Bishop rejected the offer. ?This is a minority institution and not a government school? he reminded the minister. Later forensic tests revealed that the girl who committed suicide had indeed been molested. (Dinakaran -Tamil Daily, 21-Nov-2006 & Tuglak -Tamil weekly, 25-07-2007)

Status of the case today: Culprits not punished

Case number 2

On 23 October, 2007, Ananthavalli another teenage student staying at the hostel of St. Anne?s Girls Higher Secondary School, Cuddalore, allegedly committed suicide inside the classroom. Here is a non-committal report from UNI: ?A 12th standard girl student allegedly committed suicide today by hanging herself inside her classroom at a private school in this district. Police sources, quoting the school authorities, said the student, Anandavalli, a hosteller, had refrained from interacting with the other students since the last two days. On being informed, the girl?s parents and about 500 people from her native Samuttikuppam village rushed to the school. They alleged foul play by school administration, particularly the hostel warden and demanded their immediate arrest.?

However the local Tamil newspapers had some disturbing details like the fact that the girl?s body was found with her mouth stuffed with cloth and a bunch of her hair along with hairclip was found at a distance etc.
(Dinathanthi, Tamil daily (Chennai edition) 23-10-2007 & Dinamalar Tamil daily, (Pondicherry edition) 23-10-2007)

Status of the case today: Culprits not punished

Case Number 3

In October 2009, a few days after the death of her sister Anu, a 14-year-old class IX student had alleged that she and her deceased elder sister were made to wash feet and massage Joseph and another priest who was a regular visitor to the hostel and that it often ended up with them being sexually harassed. According to a news report ?the two sisters belonging to a poor family of Kelakam in Kannur district thought it better to resign to their fate as otherwise they would have had to discontinue studies.? (Ananthakrishnan G, ?Kerala priest held for sexual abuse of minor?, Times of India, March-6-2010)

Status: The priest was given bail

Case number 4

A teenager Fathima Sofiya, was found dead on July 23, 2013. Kerala police investigated closed the case claiming that she had committed suicide. Later, a sting operation involving the murdered girl?s mother showed a priest confess that it was actually a murder. ?She started screaming and running away. That?s why I caught her dupatta and pulled her back?, Rev. Arockiaraj, the priest serving at St Stanlislaus Church was found saying. (Komal Gautham, Accused priest calls girl?s death accident in Coimbatore, Times of India, 17-Jun-2015)

Status: The police have been forced to reopen the case

In Kerala, where the Church is a key player in politics, many cases of abuses are hushed. The most famous case is that of Abhaya ? whose death in 1992 was declared as a suicide by the state police but was later found to be a homicide in 1998 by Central Bureau of Investigations, and such was the power of the Church that it was found that the forensic reports were tampered with.

It was only in 2008 that the accused priest and nun were arrested ? only after the Kerala High Court had blamed the state investigating agency over the slow progress in its probe and asked the Kerala unit of the CBI to take over. With increasing political clout of the Church and evangelical organisations in Tamil Nadu, both the southern states are fast becoming the dens of predatory priests, as the forthcoming cases will reveal.

Case number 5

In this most recent case on September 10, 2015, 17-year old Siva Sakthi a +2 student belonging to scheduled class community was found hanging in the hostel of Little Flower Roman Catholic School for girls. People from her community are suspecting foul play by the administration and are agitating for judicial enquiry.

Apart from such cases of traumatized students committing suicides or being found dead under suspicious circumstances there are other murders related to sexual abuses happening inside the Church. In 2008, a Catholic priest was found murdered in the hostel room of a famous Catholic pilgrim centre in Tamil Nadu. Subsequent investigations by a news magazine revealed that he was part of a network which abused girls in Catholic orphanages. (Kumutham Reporter, 23-Nov-2008)

The abuse of children is not an isolated phenomenon in Catholic institutions alone, though it is more institutionalized there. Many Christian-run educational institutions can get away easily with traumatic abuse of children in their educational institutions.

Case number 6

On February 11, 2009 12-year old Ranjita was alone with her grandmother and she asked her grandmother for sweets. The minute the grandmother left the spot the girl committed suicide by immolating herself. The official reason given was that she committed suicide because she got low marks. Her parents pointed out that being a Karate champion at a young age their child would not commit suicide because of low marks.


The truth is that the parents had seen the girl being subjected to religious persecution by school authorities. Her sacred talisman was torn by a school teacher. The day before her suicide the girl was made to recite Bible verses in front of the school assembly. Then she was caned, taunted and humiliated in front of the other girls because she could not recite Bible verses.

Status of the case today: Culprits not punished

Case number 7

On 19, September, 2011, V.Ramya, a 14-year old girl came back crying from Immanuel Methodist school, Ambattur, Chennai. She had been humiliated by the teacher because the girl was wearing vermillion and flowers. ?Why have you come to the school dressed like Silk Smita?? the teacher had asked and violently removed the flowers as well as the vermillion.
This was not an isolated incident. The girl had been repeatedly subjected to such humiliations because she chose to wear her cultural symbols. She had complained about such a treatment in her school to her parents. They did not take the issue seriously. (Teen hangs after teacher raps her for dress-code violation, Times of India, 19-Sep-2011)

Status of the case today: Culprits not punished.

What one sees here is extreme under-reporting of such phenomena where Indian children had to pay for their life in the face of assault by unlimited evangelical power. The root problem lies in Article 30 of the Indian Constitution that permits minorities, defined in religious and linguistic terms, to run their own educational institutions as they see fit with little or no oversight. This Article 30 has so skewed the system that the Manipal Institute of Technology, founded in 1957, became a ?Linguistic Minority Institute? between 1993 and 1999 to circumvent the Karnataka state government?s 1993 regulation of student intake to private, but not minority, institutes.

The famed Ramakrishna Mission that runs several educational institutions petitioned the Calcutta High Court in 1980 to be treated as a minority institution because there was a danger that the local Marxist government in Bengal would take control of its educational institutions unless it could invoke the extra protection the Indian Constitution accords to minority religions! Fortunately, the Supreme Court over-ruled the Calcutta High Court in 1995 and the Ramakrishna Mission remains a Hindu organisation.

Minority education institutions receive enormous government aid and operate with autonomy. In fact, the provisions of the Right to Education (RTE) legislation aren?t applicable to Minority institutions. Media oversight, usually hyperbolic in its coverage of incidents such as the ones mentioned above is disquietingly absent in the case of minority institutions. The relevant local administration perhaps wishing to be politically correct and not be branded ?communal? generally seeks to ?manage? the situation than redress the problem.

It is high time the government recognizes this undesirable educational apartheid and ensure a level playing field for all by scrapping or modifying Article 30. Surely, it is not anyone?s case that each community should seek to be a minority and claim privileges or that there be walls created amongst communities and groups. That would be the easiest way to break the idea of India. Is this what we want India to be?

Catholic educational institutions are in general known for their discipline and quality of educational services they provide. This is particularly so for the Jesuit and Salesian educational institutions. Some of the finest modern educational institutions that have furthered the cause of human knowledge belong to them. The child abuse sex scandal which the Church faces is definitely a great challenge and there is a lot of heart-wrenching within the Church itself.

However as in all human institutions, the Church also has in her vested interests and even networks of people who abuse their power as well as religious authority.

The unfortunate Indian situation is that the lopsided ill-conceived concessions and freedom given to the religious minorities have made the milieu extremely hospitable for the vested and abusive forces within this age-old institution, throwing it back to medieval times. While in the West the Church is facing the scandal more democratically, in countries like India, the Church is trying to cover up the scandal and protect the culprits. Now things have come to such a pause that predatory priests world over, who are wanted in United States and Europe, could find in minority educational institutions in India, a safe haven. And what is at risk is the safety of our children, pitted against a systematic institutionalized abuse, subsidized by Nehruvian secularism.


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