Five priests have been suspended by an orthodox church in India after they were accused of using a woman's confessions to blackmail her into having sex with them.
The Malankara Orthodox Church, headquartered in Kottayam, has suspended the five church leaders in Kerala after the husband of the woman complained that his wife had been sexually abused by the priests who used her confessions to force her into having sex with them.
The allegation was confirmed to The News Minute by a church spokesperson on Monday.
"We received a complaint from the woman's husband and the priests who have been accused have been suspended pending inquiry," the spokesperson was quoted as saying. "We do not know if these allegations are true. Only after the inquiry can we say if it is genuine or fake. Future course of action will be decided based on the internal inquiry report."
An investigation into the allegations is pending. The spokesperson would not provide the identity of the five priests in question.
However, reports indicate that three of the priests are in the Niranam Diocese in Thiruvalla.
New Delhi Television reports that a commission will handle the investigation and that the husband has not yet filed a police complaint.
"The probe is on and when the report comes, the church will again act on it," secretary of the church, Biju Oommen, told NDTV.
The husband claims that when his wife went to a priest to confess that she had been assaulted by another priest before her marriage, that priest threatened to tell her husband if she did not have sex with him.
When the woman sought help from another priest, that priest also threatened her and shared her contact with another priest, the husband said. The husband claims that his wife was harassed by at least five priests.
Outrage over the accusations have spread across social media. An audio clip of a phone call between the husband and another person has also been shared online. The News Minute reports that the husband first confronted his wife about the situation when he saw a large hotel bill in February.
"The first bill in the statement was my wife's hotel bill where she stayed in a five-star hotel. When I confronted her, she said that she was being blackmailed by one of the orthodox priests into having a sexual relationship with him," the husband was quoted as saying in the audio clip. "Many years ago, before we got married, a priest had sexually abused her and was blackmailing her since then. During my daughter's baptism, she was mentally upset about what was happening and so she confessed her ordeal to another priest, who threatened that he'll tell this to me.
"[H]e demanded sexual favors from her. He even took pictures of them together and shared those pictures with a third priest. He, too, later started abusing my wife," the husband continued. "They kept circulating the videos and now around five to eight priests are involved."
Oommen told NDTV that the church is worried about the "huge publicity that the incident has generated."
"[W]e suspect that there are vested interests who are out to malign our church in the social media," Oommen argued.
The husband said in the audio clip that he would ultimately like to see the priests defrocked.