For Her Daughter’s Murder, a Mother Takes on ‘God’ and the Church


“When you’re a woman from a poor family attached to the Church, it’s not easy to take them on,” says Shanthi Roselin, whose 17-year-old daughter was found dead in a priest’s room. Image used for representation. (Photo: iStock)
“When you’re a woman from a poor family attached to the Church, it’s not easy to take them on,” says Shanthi Roselin, whose 17-year-old daughter was found dead in a priest’s room. Image used for representation. (Photo: iStock)

For Her Daughter’s Murder, a Mother Takes on ‘God’ and the Church

For three years now, Shanthi Roselin has been fighting an arduous battle against everything she held sacred – the Church and what it symbolises. On 23 July 2013, her 17-year-old daughter, Fathima Sophia, was found dead in the guest room of Father Arockiaraj, the priest of St Stanislaus Church in Palakkad district in Kerala.

Police deemed it a case of suicide, and the matter was closed. It took a lot of courage for Roselin – who was convinced her daughter had not killed herself – to go against the Church.

Sophia’s father was physically impaired and Arockiaraj was reportedly like a father figure to her.

“Arockiaraj was like God to us,” says Roselin in an Indian Express report.

In the three years since Sophia’s death, a lot has transpired. Arockiaraj allegedly confessed to Roselin in a panicky phonecall; a ‘letter’ from Sophia’s belongings suggested a relationship between her and the Father, a secret canonical court at the Coimbatore Bishop House where Arockiaraj allegedly confessed to “using the girl.”

Last week, five high-ranking Catholic priests – one of them a Bishop – were arrested and released on bail soon after. The prime accused Arockiaraj was arrested in December last year, and is now out on conditional bail.

He has been booked for rape and sexual assault under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act.

Also Read: In South India, Catholic Church Still Supports Paedophile Priest

The Church reportedly knew of the incident but failed to report the sexual abuse of a minor to the police. (Photo: Reuters)
The Church reportedly knew of the incident but failed to report the sexual abuse of a minor to the police. (Photo: Reuters)

The Church reportedly knew of the incident throughout, and took action against Arockiaraj “as per the canon law”. When asked why the sexual abuse of a minor wasn’t reported to the police, Fr John Joseph, Vicar General of the Coimbatore Diocese says:

That was a mistake. We are innocent. It was a very, very unfortunate incident. There were mistakes on the part of the Church too. But we didn’t do it on purpose.
Fr John Joseph, Vicar General of the Coimbatore Diocese

The day Sophia was killed, Roselin and her husband were at a hospital in Coimbatore, where Roselin’s mother-in-law was admitted. Sophia and her younger brother were alone at home.

At around noon, Roselin allegedly received a panicky phone call from Arockiaraj screaming “Konnittein, konnittein (I killed, I killed)“ before abruptly ending the call. He then called again to say Sophia had tried to kill herself and had died on his lap while on the way to the hospital.

In the following weeks, Roselin said Arockiaraj called her several times to confess, saying it was an “accident” as he was trying to cover her mouth with a dupatta to silence her. They reportedly had a minor scuffle in his church room.

He reportedly also told Roselin that senior priests and Kerala police helped Arockiaraj cover up the death as a suicide, in an effort to protect the Church. This is an angle the police are currently probing, reported The Indian Express.

For the first one year, I had no evidence other than Arockiaraj’s confession. When you are a woman from a poor family attached to the Church, it is not easy to take them on. It’s a big deal.
Roselin told The Indian Express

With the help of a relative who was a local journalist, Roselin carried out a sting operation, recording Arockiaraj’s confession on tape. The video was telecast on Zee Tamil, in the aftermath of which Roselin’s house was attacked, the Church organised protests in Coimbatore, and Roselin was excommunicated.

Arockiaraj was arrested six months after the telecast of the video. He denies the allegations saying Roselin is trying to extort money from the church. Despite his alleged confession in the canonical court, Arockiaraj also said he had never had sexual relations with Sophia.

For now, Roselin’s battle against the Church carries on.

Source: The Indian Express