The Kerala High Court on Monday granted bail to a Christian priest arrested for allegedly abusing a married woman in Pathanamthitta district.
Johnson V Mathew, a counsellor of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, was arrested from Kozhencherry in the district on July 13. He was charged under Section 354 (outraging modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code.
Johnson Mathew, the third accused in the rape case, involving three more priests of the church, moved the high court seeking bail after a magistrate court in Thiruvalla had turned down his plea.
Granting bail, Justice Rajavijayaraghavan directed the priest to surrender his passport, cooperate in the investigation and not to enter the limits of the police station where the victim resides.
The Crime Branch probing the case had earlier arrested Job Mathew, the vicar of a local church.
He had surrendered after the high court dismissed his anticipatory bail plea and that of two other priests, observing they acted as "predators" and took "undue advantage" of the woman.
The two other priests, accused in the case, have moved the Supreme Court seeking anticipatory bail.
The incident came to light after an audio clip of the purported conversation of the husband of the victim with a church official about the alleged sexual abuse of his wife by the priests was circulated on social media.
The woman's husband had in June accused five priests of using his wife's secret confession to "blackmail and sexually abuse" her.
The Crime Branch registered a case following which the four priests had moved the high court seeking anticipatory bail.
According to the woman's statement to police, the accused vicar had sought sexual favours from her after she made a confession to him about one of her tormentors and also threatened to reveal the contents of the confession against another accused in the case.
The vicar also used to speak about sexual activities over phone and that the abuse continued till 2012, she alleged.
Johnson Mathew, according to the woman's complaint, was her senior in college and got in touch with her through WhatsApp.
In course of time his messages turned explicit and he also allegedly morphed her face with a nude picture of another woman and threatened to circulate it on the web, the complaint said.
The FIR was registered against the priests by the crime branch after recording the woman's statement.
(With agency inputs)