Christian priest who joined Kerala BJP faces complaint of sexual harassment; responsibilities taken away

The priest, meanwhile, claimed that the Church leadership allowed him the requested leave from responsibilities without disciplinary action.

ByK A Shaji

Published Jan 05, 2024 | 9:47 PMUpdatedJan 06, 2024 | 12:06 AM

Fr Shaiju Kurian

The controversy surrounding Fr Shaiju Kurien of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church joining the Kerala unit of the BJP has taken a new turn.

A fellow priest has approached the Kerala State Women’s Commission, accusing him of verbal sexual harassment of a female devotee.

When contacted by South First, Fr Mathews Vazhakunnam of the Oriental Christian Church — headquartered in Kottayam — confirmed that he had petitioned the women’s commission.

He added that his petition was supported by an audio recording of the conversation Shaiju allegedly had with the women devotee days before joining the BJP.

Mathews said he wanted the commission to direct the superintendent of police of Pathanamthitta to immediately register a case against Shaiju based on the recorded conversation, which has been circulating across the region for the last several days.

He alleged that the controversial priest joined the BJP after knowing that the woman had recorded the conversation and was planning to approach the church authorities seeking action.

He said the church was now initiating action against him based on several petitions, including the verbal sexual harassment of one of its members.

It may be noted that the Kerala unit of the BJP has been wooing the Christian community in the state for some time.

It announced on 31 December that Shaiju and 47 others from the minority community had joined the party at a function held in Pathanamthitta.

Related: BJP’s Christian outreach effort in Kerala leaves CPI(M) fuming

Action against priest

In the meantime, church authorities informed the news media that Shaiju had been temporarily removed from all his positions in the diocese pending an inquiry.

They added that a commission had been constituted to probe the charges against him.

Shaiju was serving as the secretary of the Nilakkal diocese of the church and as the vice-president of the Nilakkal Bhadrasanam Sunday School — the religious teaching facility of the church for its students.

As per the statement issued by the Nilakkal diocese on Friday, 5 January, the decision to temporarily remove the priest from all current church positions pending an inquiry was taken by the diocese council, which met on Thursday.

However, the statement, signed by the public relations officer of the diocese, did not specify the reason for the action against him.

As per the statement, the council has requested the church’s supreme head Baselios Marthoma Mathews III Catholica Bava to set up an inquiry commission to probe the complaints against Shaiju.

The statement said it had been decided to complete the investigation within two months. It added that a new priest would be appointed as the Nilakkal Bhadrasanam Sunday School’s vice-president.

However, Shaiju told reporters on Friday that the church leadership had given him leave for a few months based on his request. He also denied all the allegations against him, including verbal sexual harassment.

In the meantime, the church remains tight-lipped about the disciplinary action against metropolitan  Kuriakose Mar Clemis, who attended the Christmas programme of the BJP along with Shaiju.

However, it is yet to be known whether the metropolitan accepted the party membership, as was the case with Shaiju.

Related: Archbishop seeks Modi’s intervention to address Christians’ concerns

Headache for Kerala BJP

The new developments have turned into a headache for the Kerala unit of the BJP, which used its Facebook account to announce the joining of the priest in the presence of Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan.

According to the BJP, many Christians from the Kerala Congress (Jacob) joined the party at a function in Thrissur in the presence of its state president K Surendran.

The party attributed this trend of minorities joining its ranks to the Narendra Modi-led Union government’s visionary approach to development.

The joining came shortly after the BJP resumed its “Sneha Yatra”, an outreach programme aimed at connecting with the Christian community in the state.

The central leadership of the BJP had directed the state unit to rebuild its ties with the Christian communities in Kerala ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

“The BJP is a party that leads this country on a path of progress, and we want to be a part of this growing movement. Much beyond the spiritual and political aspirations, we intend to line up under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” Shaiju told reporters after joining.

BJP leaders said Shaiju joining the party had boosted the BJP’s electoral prospects in the Pathanamthitta Lok Sabha seat, where Orthodox Christians hold considerable sway.

Now, the Kerala BJP leadership is opting to wait and watch the developments. However, the party stated on 31 December that it would protect the priest and others who joined the BJP from online attacks by adversaries.

Also read: Kerala priest who joined BJP is now a liability for the party

The church’s other problems

Last year, Geevarghese Mar Yulios, the metropolitan of the Kunnamkulam diocese, openly stated that the BJP was not an untouchable political pariah.

He also flayed attempts to take certain quotes from the Vicharadhara — the RSS’ ideological manual authored by MS Golwalkar — out of context.

The statement, however, triggered a torrent of reactions from both within and outside the Orthodox church.

It prompted Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews III, the Catholicos of the East, to clarify that the church did not have affinity for or enmity towards any particular political organisation.

A couple of months ago, the Syro-Malabar church relieved one of its priests of pastoral duties in a parish soon after he joined the BJP.

The bishop of Idukki, Mar John Nellikunnel, removed 73-year-old Fr Kuriakose Mattam from his position as vicar of the St Thomas Church in Mankuva, citing that the priest had neglected to obtain the necessary permission.

Also read: Kerala’s church sets up Ecclesiastical Court to try a priest