Weeks after a CBI court in Thiruvananthapuram convicted Father Kottoor and Sister Sephy, an editorial on KCBC News, the newly launched website of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) claimed that the investigating agency could not prove charges against the accused. Sr Sephy and Father Kottoor were found guilty in December after 28 years under Sections 302 (Murder) and Section 449 (House-trespass in order to commit offence punishable with death) of the Indian Penal Code, and have been sentenced to life imprisonment.
"Neither did the investigating agency conduct a good investigation and nor did it submit enough evidence. The sad end of the 28-year-old wait was that they could satisfy only falsely created public opinion,” alleged the editorial note written by Fr Jacob Palakkappilli, KCBC Deputy Secretary-General. Although the prosecution had met with several challenges during the trial including witnesses turning hostile, and evidence being allegedly destroyed, the CBI court convicted the two accused based on key witness statements, findings of forensic experts and circumstantial evidence.
The January 8 editorial seeks intervention for the media, alleging that news organisations ‘create’ stories about the accused in these cases. It goes on to add that the accused should be questioned without any external pressure or prejudice, and that a media trial in cases leads to human rights violations for the accused as well as of the victims.
The piece also said that the Church extended its support to investigate the case from the very beginning, believing that it was a murder. However, this claim too is contested by allegations that the Church intentionally delayed reporting the crime to the police, giving a warm welcome to the accused when they were out on bail in 2008 among others. Moreover, the Crime Branch, which first investigated the case, had initially ruled Sr Abhaya’s death as a suicide. It was only in 1993 - a year after Sr Abhaya’s murder - when the case was transferred to the CBI that her death was reported as homicide.
In fact in 2008, when CBI arrested priests Thomas Kottoor and Jose Poothrikkayil (was later discharged as an accused) and nun Sephy from the Catholic Knanaya community for murdering Sr Abhaya in 1992 at her convent, KCBC had strongly come down on the CBI.
In a press release in 2008 when the CBI arrested them, the KCBC had said that the motives of the agency were not genuine. They called it an attempt to tarnish the image of the church, and that the accused had been considered guilty before being proven to be guilty.
Sr Abhaya, a 19-year-old nun, was found dead in the well of Pious Xth Convent in Kottayam district of Kerala in March 1992. According to the CBI, Sr Abhaya had found the priests and Sephy in a compromising position in the convent kitchen and they killed her fearing she would speak out about this.
KCBC is an association of Catholic Bishops of three rites in Kerala — Syro Malabar, Syro Malankara and Latin rights. Mar George Alencherry is the current president of KCBC.
This was not the first time KCBC has been protective of the accused. In 2018, when a nun filed a complaint against Bishop Franco Mulakkal for sexual abuse, KCBC said there was a hidden agenda.
When protests were on in full swing against Franco Mulakkal and he was arrested for charges of rape, KCBC stood by him and criticised protestors. At the time too, they had said that vested interests are behind the protest. Coming down on the nuns who were protesting against the Bishop, they said it was against Christian values.