'Sending Kurien to the Vatican is a disgrace for the new Pope'

Thiruvananthapuram: The government’s decision to send a politician dogged by rape allegations involving a schoolgirl to the Pope’s inauguration was condemned yesterday by the victim’s family and opposition figures.

PJ Kurien, deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, will lead the Indian delegation to the inauguration of Pope Francis, despite questions about his alleged role in the gang rape of a teenager in 1996.

Holy trip: PJ Kurien and his wife Susan left for the Vatican from New Delhi yesterday. They will watch the inauguration of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church’s 266th pontiff. File Pic/AFP

The Catholic victim, then a 16-year-old schoolgirl, has accused Kurien of being one of 42 men involved in her rape after she was abducted and kept in custody for 40 days in Kerala in the now infamous Suryanelli rape case.

Kurien, now 72, was acquitted of rape in a trial in 2005. But he has come under new pressure after his accuser demanded a fresh investigation following a storm over the deadly gang rape of a student in New Delhi last December. A lower court, however, rejected her petition for a new inquiry.

The victim’s father condemned the government's decision to send Kurien, his wife and private secretary to Vatican City. “I am pained when I read the news. It’s certainly a disgrace for the new Pope,” he said.

The gang rape case has angered many in the state, with hundreds of protestors camping outside the state assembly for several days last month to try to force Kurien to resign from his post.

The state’s former CM VS Achuthanandan said that Kurien had used his “political clout” to evade prosecution in the past. “Now Congress party may be sending him to get pardoned by the Pope,” he said.

Kurien, a Catholic, was not immediately available for comment and his office said he was on his way to Rome. He has previously rejected the accusations as part of a politically driven smear campaign.

“I’ve been exonerated by the Supreme Court and acquitted after three police investigations,” Kurien said last month.          

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