New Delhi, India (CNN)As more than 200 leaders from the Roman Catholic Church meet in Rome for an unprecedented summit to address clergy sexual abuse, a crisis is being renewed in India.
Catholic Church's problems with abuse are playing out in India amid summit
In the southern Indian state of Kerala, accusations of sexual abuse involving the Catholic Church have demonstrated the challenges of holding some members of the clergy to account, and the clerical pressures victims face to remain silent.
Last Saturday, a senior Catholic priest was sentenced to 20 years in prison by an Indian court for raping a 16-year-old girl in Kerala. The incident came to light only after the victim gave birth in February, 2017.
Robin Vadakkumchery, 51, was found guilty of raping the underage girl. He was handed down three concurrent sentences of 20 years each for rape and sexual abuse.
The case has been mired in controversy. The girl's father attempted to direct the focus away from the priest -- by initially telling police that he was the father of his daughter's baby.
According to Beena Kaliyath, state prosecutor for the case, the girl's father told police he was the one who had raped her, in order to take pressure off the Church. DNA testing subsequently proved that Vadakkumchery, the priest, was the father.
Police were alerted to the case by state child protection authorities two weeks after the girl delivered a baby, according to the court judgment from the sentencing.
During the trial, the girl, her father and her mother also claimed that the baby was the result of a consensual relationship between the victim and the priest and the girl was an adult at the time. The court rejected the documents which were furnished to corroborate the claim -- ruling that they had been falsified.
Under Indian law, any sexual encounter with a minor under 18 automatically becomes ground for a rape charge.
John Dayal, the former president of the All India Catholic Union told CNN that because all religious authorities, including the church, are held in such high regard, it "makes it harder for the victims to expose the culprit."
Dayal, who is also a human rights and political activist said that it's often difficult for women to go public in such cases because "people will not believe her because they hold priests in such high esteem."