Sexual escapades of church pastors are very common in Tamil Nadu and Kerala if we turn the pages of history. Young and innocent are the victims in most cases.
Now a video and photographs of a Syro Malaknara Catholic Christian pastor have been doing rounds on social media for the past two days.
Benedict Anto is a Syro Malankara Catholic church priest in Kanyakumari West District.
The alleged 30 -year-old Christian priest is from Marthandam near Nagercoil in the Kanyakumari district. He is associated with various political groups, including Naam Tamilar Katchi Seeman (NTK). One of the pictures on social media shows he was standing with NTK leader Seeman alias Sebastian, banned Pro LTTE supporter and self-proclaimed Tamil chauvinist.
Benedict Anto’s Facebook profile reveals he is an ardent supporter of Seeman. He also took a photograph with Seeman in his home. Some say he is a priest at the RC church at Mekkamandapam Pilankalai.
The videos and pictures surfaced after a group of people, probably relatives or friends of one of the victims, came in a car to speak to him. It is learnt that there is a heated argument between them.
In the end, it is alleged, they snatched the pastor’s laptop, computers, and mobiles before leaving his home. It is also reported that they assaulted the pastor for reasons better known to them. It is learnt that the people are believed to be from Kollankolludu.
In one video of the pastor Benedict Anto, posted on social media on March 13, by an unidentified handle, sharing the screen with a young girl, kissing her, and singing along with her. There are pictures with the girl, political leaders and peer priests.
According to reports, the priest has a bad reputation with women, and similar complaints have already been filed against him at various police stations. One of his victims might have attacked him, stolen his computer, and released his personal videos.
The pastor filed a police complaint that he was attacked and some individuals took his laptop and mobile away. A Preliminary investigation by the police reveals the people who attacked the priest and stole the laptop belonged to Kollankodu. They are searching for them to get further details. It is alleged that he had enticed and lured girls who came to the church to pray or to give confessions to satiate his sexual need.
Pastor Benedict Anto has his master’s degree in English from Annamalai University, Chidambaram, a BA in philosophy at Kerala University, and Philosophical studies at St Mary’s Seminary in Thiruvananthapuram. He studied at Sacred Heart Seminary, Poonamallee and Kids Oxford School and St. Francis Higher Secondary School, Vavarai.
Meanwhile, there is a dispute between the priest and a law student Austin Jino over some issues. Based on pastor Benedict’s complaint, police arrested him. (it could be over the taking away of his laptops and mobiles) His mother, Mini Ajitha, met the district superintendent of police and gave a complaint with supportive evidence like audio clippings, videos, pictures etc., against the pastor. She said, “the pastor misbehaved with a law girl student, and he questioned him for this.
To silence him, the church pastor preferred a complaint against my son”. She also charged him with having an illicit sexual relationship with many women by threatening and also indulged in online obscene chatting sessions with young girls. She has asked to police to do justice for his innocent son. There are, it is learnt, videos of the pastor with women in compromising positions are doing around in social media.
There has been a dangerous trend of repeated rape and other abusive incidents at churches worldwide. India is not immune to this dastardly, either. Christian priests and churches, like most cases worldwide, have been targeting the poor and needy for their crimes, but the cases go unnoticed. Only a few come to public knowledge due to the poor law knowledge of victims, their social background, social stigma, poverty of victims, deep faith in religion, and political connections of perpetrators are some of the reasons why only a few get the attention of the public and custodian of law.
The following incidents would prove that they are widespread.
Recently, Organiser Weekly published an article on an inmate of a teenage girl of Nambikkai Hope Children Home (HCH) on Beach Road in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, made sexual harassment and assault charges against its owner Parameswaran and others in January this year. A pastor Andrews (46), from Pallagoundenpalayam near Uthukuli, was arrested by Uthukuli police in Tirupur for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. Police said the accused and his wife ran a hostel for girls and working women. A couple from the Veerapandi area had admitted their 13-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son to the hostel.
The siblings were attending school by staying in the hostel. Their parents took them home for Christmas celebrations when the girl was informed of the sexual abuse by Andrews and refused to return to the hostel. Police said, “Andrews, who then confessed to the offence. “A fortnight ago, when the girl stayed in the room without attending evening prayers as she was unwell, Andrews sexually assaulted her. He also threatened her not to reveal the incident to anyone,” he said.
In July last year, a preacher Stephen Raj, from Malumichampatti taluk in Tamil Nadu Coimbatore district, was arrested by Perur Police under the POCSO Act for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl. The minor girl lived with her younger sister at her grandmother’s house.
The accused preacher had rented a house in the area and was preaching from the house on Fridays. When she was alone in the house with her sister, Stephen Raj entered and locked her sister in a room. He had sexually assaulted the minor girl. When she started to cry for help, he fled the scene in August 2022; a pastor who was part of the Punithar Arul Anandhar Church near Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu was arrested.
Many victims who were sexually assaulted contacted the child welfare authorities to report the incidents. Based on this, the child welfare authorities conducted confidential investigations into John Robert and the allegations. Police arrested the pastor and registered a case under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).
Last November, Tamil Nadu Police booked a Christian pastor Sherrard Manohar (58) and his wife, Helen, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO). The accused has been identified as Pastor Sherrard Manohar (58). He was arrested after a 16-year-old girl’s grandmother filed a complaint.
The victim’s grandmother filed the complaint against, who runs a church named Apostle Christ Assembly (ACA)- Jesus Miracles Ministries in Chennai. Both accused belong to Sri Lanka and have been living illegally in Chennai. Police found in their investigation that the pastor has been abusing the girl for the past six months through direct contact and lewd WhatsApp messages and calls.
In September 2022, a priest Charles (58), who was absconding after raping and impregnating a minor girl in 2021, was arrested by police and booked under sections of the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill (Pocso) Act. He used to run a children’s orphanage.
In February 2021, a Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu) based woman working in an elderly home cum orphanage was brutally attacked for accidentally being witness to the illicit affair of a pastor with a woman. Rajammal, working as a kitchen help in Hermines Home for the Destitute, was thrashed by the catholic priest Pastor Joseph Isidore who runs it and a woman, Jayalakshmi, one of the trustees.
In April 2021, a Chennai-based pastor was arrested for sexually harassing a woman laity in his church. Pastor Scott David, 53, runs New Life Jesus Mission church in Avadi, Chennai. The victim woman Angeline, 48, told police while she was praying, pastor Scott David hugged her from behind and kissed her during a prayer session.
On August 12, 2021, Christian priest Arumanai Stephen, the secretary of the ACA, was booked by the Tamil Nadu police for allegedly gang-raping a married woman from Veeyannoor of Thiruvattar district and recording the video of the act. Seven others also allegedly committed the crime along with the pastor. Pastor Arumanai Stephen, secretary of ACA, and seven others who allegedly committed the crime were charged under IPC sections for unlawful confinement, sexual abuse, making death threats and theft by the Tamil Nadu police after a 36-year-old woman filed a complaint against them.
On February 28, 2020, a 52-year-old pastor S Selvaraj of Siragodu village near Pechiparai in Kanyakumari district, was arrested by Valliyoor all-woman police in Tirunelveli district on charges of repeated sexual abuse of a seven-year-old girl. He was a pastor in the church for two decades. He was booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act.
During Corona pandemic, a 49-year-old Christian pastor identified as Jayaraj, a resident of Trichy, who was camping in Perungattur, a tribal hamlet in the Jawadhu hills of Tamil Nadu, was accused of misbehaving with girls. He was taking tuition classes for this at home and was allegedly a paedophile. The Christian priest indulged in preaching and evangelism in the village for four years in the garb of a social worker.
Surprisingly, the incident did not find a place in any newspaper or visual media that runs debates and flash news if any such incidents related to Hindu priests and sadhus.
“The DMK Government should initiate steps and take severe action against the accused. It also ensures the churches are free from sexual assault dens and the lustrous predator pastors working in white garbs. It has become unwritten that pastors, bishops and others have the licence to play with the lives of laities, who hold them in high esteem because of their seminal orders, by sexually assaulting them.
The incident is not isolated but rampant in Tamil Nadu and Kerala States. Given the stand and statement of the DMK Government, Chief Minister MK Stalin, Speaker of Assembly Appavu, ministers to the effect that it was their (Christian) Government, expecting action from them will be hard,” says political commentator Bala Gauthaman.