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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

POCSO court sentences paedophile padre Kokken after nine long years

In May 2014, Fr. Raju Kokken, a 40-year-old Catholic padre at St. Paul’s Church near Thrissur in Kerala, was arrested for raping a nine-year-old girl. After nine long years, this week, a ‘fast track’ POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) court in Kerala sentenced the paedophile Christian padre to a mere seven years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000. 

The minor girl victim attended classes for her Holy Communion at Kokken’s church. He trapped the girl from a poor family promising free dresses for communion and raped her on multiple occasions. The paedophile also recorded nude footage of the minor girl on his mobile phone. 

The First Holy Communion is considered one of the holiest and most important occasions in a Catholic’s life. It is a Christian religious ceremony for children aged about 7 or 8 years. Ironically it is celebrated with underage children drinking wine that the padre provides.

Incidentally, this September, Kokken was seen actively participating in the ceremony honouring the priests who completed 25 years of the Catholic Church in the Thrissur Archdiocese. It was also the jubilee celebration of the Catholic Church. Kokken was also honoured at the silver jubilee celebrations along with three senior priests who completed 50 years in the congregation and ten who completed 25 years.

The ceremony was held at St Mary’s Minor Seminary in Madonna Nagar, Thrissur, just seven km from where he raped the young follower. Unfortunately for Kokken and the church, the punishment came within three months.

Judge Bindu Sudhakaran sentenced Raju (49) from Amballur Vandor Kokken’s house. The fine should be paid to the victim. Failure to pay the fine will result in additional imprisonment of five months. Asking the church to pay a paltry fine for such a grave sin is a mockery of the victim and our legal system.

Children of the class, teachers, and priests were witnesses in the case. The photos taken on Kokken’s mobile phone became crucial evidence in the case registered by the Ollur police. Fast Track Court Special Public Prosecutor Adv. K P Ajay Kumar represented the victim.

Suspiciously, none who helped him escape or remain hidden were ever booked. 

The Crime & a Delayed Arrest

According to Ollur police documents, the nine-year girl was lured by the priest with the promise of free vestments (a robe covering the front, back, and shoulders) for her holy communion. The paedophile vicar then raped the girl thrice in April 2014 in his office room.

Kokken asked her to remove her clothes to check whether the Holy Communion dress fit her. The girl, who hails from a low-income family, was forced to go naked before the Christian padre. On the 8th, 11th, and 24th of April 2014, the poor girl was tortured by promising to give her clothes for mass.

Kokken stripped the girl naked and touched her private parts. He raped the minor victim on the 11th and 24th and recorded her vulnerability on his phone. The child informed the parents about the incident, and the family approached the women’s cell and complained to the police.

Back then, police registered a case against Kokken under various non-bailable sections and the Information Technology Act. On 25 April 2014, with alleged help from the church, Kokken switched off his mobile device and escaped from Thrissur. He went to Aluva and reached Nagarkovil in Tamil Nadu that same day.

Massive public protests erupted all over Kerala for the delay in arresting the padre even after a week. Sensing the mood on the ground turn sour, the Thrissur Arch Diocese conducted an ‘internal inquiry.’ They quickly ousted the paedophile priest from the church. The same church had no qualms about reinstating and honouring the same child molester, but the Vatican and its handling of such paedophiles is another story. 

According to the police, they got clues about Kokken’s whereabouts from his mobile phone signal. “His mobile phone was switched off for three days, but on the fourth day, he called home from his number. We reached Nagarkovil after tracing his mobile signals,” said a police officer. Why wasn’t he arrested that same day is still a mystery. Kokken was allegedly found hiding at a relative’s house to evade the authorities. Shadow police finally arrested the paedophile padre on 4 May 2014. 

When the accused was brought to the police station, the padre screamed at the media and tried to run away with his face covered. Kokken’s behaviour became big news back then. The church maintained that the padre remained suspended from the congregation. When and how he was reinstated remains mysterious.

Controversies over Reinstatement

In this sentencing context, the church honouring Kokken is being discussed again. The news of the ceremony and the picture of the POCSO-accused padre participating in the jubilee celebrations was published in the online newspaper Catholicasabha, which is published monthly by the Catholic Church. It carried a picture of the paedophile padre basking in the limelight.

In 2018, Christian devotees protested and accused the archbishop of complicity after Kokken climbed the church altar and offered prayers. Fr. Davis Joseph Pulikot, the vicar of St. Mary’s Church, responded that Kokken merely attended the church functions with his family. He did not offer prayer mass or officiate at other ceremonies. Other padres celebrated mass, claimed Joseph.

Believers pointed out that evidence proved that Joseph was lying. A special bulletin released during the church festivities featured Kokken performing rituals on its centre page. The paedophile padre wore his official clothes, proving he did not come to the church like an ordinary believer. Though he was suspended in 2014, the Thrissur Archdiocese gave Kokken full church responsibilities.

Believers witnessed the presence of POCSO-accused Kokken during the annual celebrations at St. Mary’s Church on 9 September 2018. It was alleged that he could not stand on the altar, offer the Holy Sacrifice and participate in the procession without the permission of Thrissur Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Archbishop Andrews Thazhath. The church couldn’t care less.

Tempers flared again when Kokken participated in the Jubilee celebrations. Churchgoers accused the diocese of deceiving the faithful by reinstating and honouring an accused padre. Believers accused the archbishop of showing his authoritarianism and proving that the religious community was just slaves of the church.

Christian devotees assessed that the church elite protected criminals. They claimed it was equivalent to betraying the church, the believers, and christ. Nothing changed on the ground, and the high padre stood their ground.

Kokken raped a minor, escaped, and allegedly tampered with evidence, yet got off with a mere seven-year sentence. Keralites wouldn’t be surprised if he takes his appeal to a higher court that might even set him free. If the case of alleged rapist Bishop Franco Mullakkal is anything to go by, Kokken going scot-free is a real possibility. Such is the supremacy that the church holds in ‘secular’ Bharat. 

Had Kokken been a Hindu Poojari, and had this incident happened inside a Temple, the worldwide media would have been in Kerala, directly beaming live updates worldwide. The western Abrahamic world would have lapped up the story happily and hungrily.

Fearing Italian Omerta and the revenge tactics that the Vatican conversion mafia regularly uses, nobody reports Kokken’s sentencing. Incidentally, it is the local Christian community themselves who opposed the church atrocities in this case.

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