The Kerala High Court on July 3 declined anticipatory bail to two priests of the Syrian Orthodox Church accused to sexually exploiting a married woman.
Fathers Sony Varghese, 42, and Job Mathew, 40, had moved the anticipatory bail pleas in the court apprehending arrest in the case.
Adjourning the case to July 9, Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan declined the priests’ pleas not to arrest them until further hearing of the case.
The court also directed police to produce the complaint of sexual harassment of the woman filed by her husband and other documents related to the case.
Father Varghese and Mathew moved the high court a day after the Crime Branch wing of Kerala Police slapped rape charges against them and two other priests in the case.
The priests, in separate, but identical pleas, rejected the woman’s allegations that they had sexually assaulted her.
They alleged that the crime was registered against them “solely at the instance of the political pressure exerted by certain vested interests to derive political mileage.”
Both claimed that even if the charges by the alleged victim in their entirety were assumed to be correct, without them admitting, the same does not make out an offence under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code.
They contended that the entire allegation revealed that sexual intercourse, if any, was fully consensual.
Meanwhile, Crime Branch Inspector General S Sreejith, who is heading the probe, visited the headquarters of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in Kottayam and discussed case-related matters with its supreme head, Baselios Marthoma Paulose II.
Sreejith said the head priest told him to take all legal steps correctly in the case.
He also offered all help to police in the probe.
The crime branch had on July 2 registered a First Information Report and slapped rape charges against the priests after recording the woman’s statement.
In June, a member of the Church accused five priests of using his wife’s confession to blackmail and sexually exploit her.
The incident came to light after an audio clip containing the man’s purported conversation with a church official was widely circulated on social media.
The investigation team had recorded the statement of the victim’s husband earlier.
The man had reportedly handed over copies of evidence against the priests to the crime branch team.
Kerala police chief Loknath Behara June end ordered a Crime Branch probe into the case.
Veteran Marxist leader and chairperson of the Kerala Administrative Reforms Commission V S Achuthanandan and the National Commission for Women had written to Behara, demanding a probe into the charges.