Cardinal Oswald Gracias addresses a Christmas gathering in New Delhi on Dec. 13, 2018. Bombay Archdiocese has denied reports that he and two bishops face police action in a case of a priest accused of abuse. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews.com)
India’s Archdiocese of Bombay has denied reports of a police case against Cardinal Oswald Gracias and two other bishops for their alleged failure to initiate action against a priest accused of child abuse.
“We have not come across any official record of a first information report (FIR) against Cardinal Gracias and his auxiliaries Bishop Dominic Savio and Bishop John Rodrigues,” said archdiocesan spokesman Father Nigel Barrett.
Media reports, however, said Mumbai police have lodged an FIR against Cardinal Gracias, who is also archbishop of Bombay Archdiocese in the western state of Maharashtra, and the two bishops for allegedly not acting against a priest accused of child molestation despite complaints from the child’s father.
The Mumbai Mirror reported on June 4 that the police action followed a direction from a special Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) court in May for police to investigate the allegations against the cardinal and his deputies.
The report also said that the child’s parents had tried to establish contact with Bishop Savio and Bishop Rodrigues.
“Neither the parents nor anybody else met the auxiliary bishops to discuss the abuse issue,” said Father Barrett.
The diocese said the parents called on Cardinal Gracias on Nov. 30, 2015.
“The cardinal held a discussion for over an hour with the minor’s parents and assured them of all his support. The cardinal also consoled them,” Father Barrett told ucanews.com.
“They lodged a complaint against the accused priest a couple of hours after meeting the cardinal and therefore it is wrong to accuse the cardinal of any kind of deliberate attempt to hush up the matter.”
Archdiocesan Father Lawrence Johnson, 55, was arrested on Dec. 2, 2015, and charged with having engaged in "sexual activities against the order of nature" with a boy aged 13. Police also charged him with violating several sections of the POCSO Act.
The priest remains in custody while the cases against him are heard.
Police say that after prayers on Nov. 27, 2015, the priest enticed the boy into a room, then closed the door before sexually abusing him.
Medical examination of the boy four days later confirmed injuries to his private parts, court records show.
The child's father alleged that church authorities, despite having knowledge of the crime, concealed it and did not act against the accused.
A section of the POCSO Act provides for a maximum jail term of one year for any person in charge of an institution who fails to report to police an alleged sexual offense by a subordinate against a minor.
“We have never been against any kind of probe into the allegations against the cardinal and other bishops as we have nothing to hide,” Father Barrett said.
“The diocese also initiated an internal probe based on the complaint from the minor’s parents.”
The diocesan inquiry could not be completed as the priest was arrested two days after it was initiated, he said.
“We need the presence of the accused to ascertain the facts of the allegations. Even before the probe began, the prelate had over the telephone suspended the priest from all his public faculties as the diocese was zero-tolerant to such abuse,” Father Barrett said.
“We approached the police for a copy of the FIR and other details, if any, but we have not received any official documents to this effect yet.”
Father Barrett said the cardinal and the two bishops have not been contacted by police.
Cardinal Gracias is a member of the Council of Cardinal Advisers to Pope Francis and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.