Indian Catholic News

Court bails priest accused of molesting woman on bus

MSFS congregation says speedy release indicates case has been 'blown out of proportion'.

 
New Delhi: 

A court in India’s Meghalaya state has granted bail to a Catholic priest three days after he was arrested on charges of molesting a woman by touching her hand on a crowded moving bus.

The additional judicial district magistrate in Garo Hills on March 19 granted bail to Father Biju Joseph, a member of the St. Francis de Sales (MSFS) congregation.

“Now we are all convinced that this is a typical case of exaggerations and inconsistencies of statements and a case blown out of proportion,” said Father Shibu Poovathunkal, spokesman for the congregation.

Father Joseph was sent to judicial custody on March 16 after a 27-year-old woman complained to police that the priest had touched her hand on a bus traveling from Assam to Meghalaya on the night of March 15.

“The speedy granting of bail is a clear indication of the malicious propaganda and false allegations,” said Father Poovathunkal.

Father Joseph has denied the charges. “He and his associates are sure that he will be able to prove his innocence by cooperating completely with law-enforcing agencies,” Father Poovathunkal said.

Meanwhile, police have filed charges against seven persons for publicly shaming the alleged victim on social media. One report said she had been subject to character assassination.

Father Poovathunkal said church people “completely distance ourselves from the offensive remarks.”

A local media report quoted an unnamed family member as saying that the alleged victim “is in absolute shock and is now scared of even venturing out alone.”

The family member added: “When she was molested, she did not even have a clue that the person doing so was a church elder. Other passengers also saw him hold her hand even when she made a noise and the lights were switched on.”

No inter-church rivalry

Allen Brooks, who heads the ecumenical United Christian Forum of North East India, rejected earlier reports that linked the incident with a perceived Catholic-Baptist rivalry in the region.

“This is an absolutely biased view of certain individuals and goes against the sentiments and feelings of Christian communities” in the state who “live in absolute friendship and solidarity,” Brooks told ucanews.com.

Christians constitute 75 percent of Meghalaya’s some three million people. Catholics form the largest group with 811,000, followed by Presbyterians (750,000), Baptists (300,000), Church of God (100,000) and Protestants of the Church of North India of the Anglican Communion (50,000).

The proximity of these different groups has “helped us understand each other better, and over the years this relationship has bonded into a very cordial and warm partnership that has helped us collectively address attacks by oppressive and communal forces,” Brooks said.

With a general election coming up in April-May, “we do not wish that any misinformation should lead to misunderstanding as there are many who would like to fish in troubled waters,” he said.

The Catholic mission in the area arrived at the start of the 20th century, almost a century after the arrival of American Baptist missionaries in 1836.

Three of the seven states in the northeast region — Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland — have Christian majorities.

The seven states together have some five million Christians, with Baptists forming 1.8 million, Catholics 1.7 million and Presbyterians 1.4 million.

Source: UCAN

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