NEW DELHI - An Indian court on Wednesday refused pre-arrest bail to three church priests in a rape case filed by a woman in southern India.
Fearing arrests, the three approached the Kerala state High Court in the city of Kochi after the state police early this month began investigating a complaint by the woman that they sexually exploited her over years.
Justice R. Vijayaraghavan on Wednesday said he could not ignore the police's concern that the priests would try to tamper with the evidence and influence witnesses during the investigation, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
They are likely to be arrested soon. The priests deny the rape accusation against them.
There was no immediate comment by their Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, headquartered in Kottayam, a city in Kerala state. Christians comprise nearly 25 percent of Kerala state's 34.8 million people.
The complainant's husband said he came to know about the abuse in February this year when he noticed a suspicious bank statement about a hotel transaction in his wife's email inbox. When questioned, his wife told him how she was abused over the years by the priests who were allegedly blackmailing her over a confession she made in the church a decade ago, the Indian Express newspaper said.
The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church has 30 dioceses across the world, with the majority in India.