Three of the four Kerala priests accused of raping a woman for years failed to get protection from arrest today with the high court observing that the priests appeared to have "acted as predators". The judge said there was no reason for the court to ignore the version of the 34-year-old woman who had given a graphic description of how he was threatened and forced to succumb to the priests.
The four priests, based at the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in Kottayam, are on the run.
The three priests had filed the petition to seek the shield against arrest as soon as the police registered a case against them.
"Since then, our focus has been on collecting preliminary evidence to challenge their bail petition in court," a senior police officer told NDTV.
Her horrifying story was exposed last month when an audio clip of her husband complaining to a church official was circulated online.
The woman, who also impleaded in the case, said her religious beliefs were misused by the church. The woman's husband said that she was caught in a vicious cycle of sexual exploitation and blackmail.
"The main culprit, the Father, promised to marry her and continued to manipulate her. The Father was a student at that time. Even after finishing his seminary and becoming a priest, he continued the same pattern. Even after we got married in 2006, the priest continued to sexually abuse my wife, blackmail her, saying that he would tell me everything. I got to know all this only in February," the husband told NDTV.
Then two more priests threatened her and sexually abused and blackmailed her, the woman has reportedly told the police.
In its order rejecting the request for anticipatory bail, the court referred to the woman's allegation that the four priests had "systemically" raped her for two decades.
Over the last 18 months, at least 12 priests have been arrested from different churches in Kerala for allegedly sexually abusing and raping minors and women.
In another case, a 49-year-old nun has filed a complaint against a Roman Catholic Bishop Father Mullickal in Jalandhar, alleging that he sexually abused her 13 times between 2014 and 2016.
The church officials, she said, had promised action by June 30 this year. Instead, Fr Mullickal filed a complaint against her and five others, accusing them of threatening him. It was only after that, on June 27, the nun filed a complaint with the police.
The Bishop of Jalandhar remains in office. Nigel Barret, spokespersons for Catholic Bishops Conference, said they are yet to take action because the Bishop has his own version of events.
Meanwhile, as a precautionary measure, the Kerala police have asked to not allow the Jalandhar Bishop Father Franco Mullackal from flying out of the country, sources said.