Kochi, India — A special court in Kerala state, south India, sentenced a Catholic priest Dec. 8 to double life sentences after he was found guilty of raping a minor girl.
The court in Ernakulam also imposed a fine of 225,000 rupees on Fr Edwin Figarez of the Kottapuram diocese under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
The double jail term for the 41-year-old priest would run concurrently, the court said.
This is the first time in Kerala that a Catholic priest is punished under the act.
The priest’s brother was sentenced to one year imprisonment and fined 5,000 rupees for helping him go into hiding after the police registered the case in April this year.
Besides, a government doctor named Ajitha, who had worked in a state-run primary health center, was also found guilty on charges of her failure to report the sexual abuse after she examined the 14-year-old ninth grader.
According to prosecution, Figarez was the parish priest of Lourd Matha Church, Puthenvelikkara in Ernakulam district. He had subjected the girl to sexual abuse several times since January this year. The last incident was on March 28.
The priest was a preacher and composer of Christian devotional songs. He allegedly exploited the girl’s interest in music and often took her to his residence under the pretext of music class, The Indian Express reported.
The sexual abuse was exposed after the girl revealed her trauma to the mother, who in turn, complained to the police. The police registered the case on April 1, and the priest went into hiding. Later, he surrendered before the court.
The diocese divested the priest from all duties, after the scandal broke.
[Matters India is a news portal focusing on religious and social issues in India. This article is part of a collaboration between NCR and Matters India.]