MUMBAI, India – A court in India has told police not to take any further action against Cardinal Oswald Gracias of the Archdiocese of Bombay and two of his auxiliary bishops in a case where they are accused of not informing the authorities of an abuse accusation against a priest.
Father Lawrence Johnson was arrested in 2016 on allegations of the sexual abuse of a child, but the family of a boy abused by the priest met with Gracias on November 30, 2015, just hours before the cardinal was scheduled to leave for Rome.
Gracias maintains that when he arrived in Rome, he asked his Auxiliary Bishop John Rodrigues to inform the authorities in conformity of the 2012 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, but the family had already done so.
Another auxiliary bishop, Savio Dominic Fernandes, is named in the complaint, even though he was outside the city at the time.
Records show the family went to the police on Nov. 30, 2015, made the official First Incident Report shortly thereafter, and Father Lawrence Johnson was arrested Dec. 2.
Earlier this year, the family accused the cardinal of not reporting the case, and the Special POCSO Court, which was established by the 2012 law, ordered an investigation.
On July 1, the Bombay High Court said police were not only to cease “coercive action” against the prelates, but also asked both the police and the families to substantiate in writing their accusations of a cover-up.
“Cardinal Gracias has done whatever was in his power and as mandated under section 19 of the POCSO act. Ultimately it is a first information report. Once the first information report is filed by the police, the process is set in motion,” explained Joaquim Reis, Gracias’s senior counsel, after the hearing.
“Cardinal Oswald Gracias was very keen to help the boy and the family. Cardinal Gracias designated a priest who visited the victim’s home along with an animator from the parish and met the father of the victim, [since] the mother and the children had gone to visit their relatives,” Reis told Crux.
“Even on that occasion the priest asked the victim’s father if in any way they could be of help to him or the child, but he was told that there was no need. The priest also told the father, at that time, that in case the boy needed any medical help or counselling, he could get in touch with him,” he continued.
“Many other attempts were made to reach out to the victim, but the family declined any help. Subsequently, the cardinal tried on many occasions to reach out to the family and the victim, but they refused to meet the cardinal. The cardinal understands their pain and is ready to give the victim and the victim’s family all assistance,” the lawyer said.
Gracias serves as the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and was part of the organizing committee for the Vatican’s anti-abuse summit in February.
The current case came to public attention when it was publicized by the BBC on the eve of the summit.
At the time, the archdiocese strongly rejected the British broadcaster’s version of events, and noted it had previously established a Corpus Fund to help needy parishioners needing medical assistance, and that an archdiocesan representative, Father Lancy Pinto had spoken to a friend of the family informing them the archdiocese was ready to support them as needed.
Pinto also visited the victim’s home and met the father of the victim, and asked him what the archdiocese could to do to help – the victim’s father said “there was no need,” according to the February statement.
“Father Lancy also told the father, at that time, that in case the boy needed any medical help or counselling, he could get in touch with him (Father Lancy). The victim’s father thanked Father Lancy and told him that, at present, they did not need any help,” the statement said.
The POSCO court ordered authorities to investigate the case in May, although the court pointed out that neither the father nor any other witnesses had earlier disclosed any facts regarding the lack of reporting of the offence by the three prelates.
Reis told Crux there is only one thing the archdiocese wants.
“We pray for justice to the cardinal and the bishops, and also for the victim.”
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