ucanews.com reporter, New DelhiUpdated: June 26, 2019 09:20 AM GMT
India’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias and two of his auxiliary bishops have asked Bombay High Court to quash a case that accused them of failing to report to police alleged child sex abuse by a Catholic priest.
The top court of Maharashtra state on June 25 postponed hearing the case to July 1.
“The charge against the cardinal and his deputies is that they failed to initiate action, but it is incorrect. And therefore the police case is challenged in the High Court,” the clerics’ counsel Jayant Joseph Bardeskar told ucanews.com on June 25.
Mumbai police filed the case against Cardinal Gracias of Bombay and Bishops Dominic Savio and John Rodrigues accusing them of not acting against an archdiocese priest accused of molesting a child despite complaints from the child’s father.
Police filed charges under the directions of a special court functioning under a child protection law — Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) — enacted in 2012.
A section of the law stipulates a one-year jail term for any head of an institution who fails to report to police an alleged sexual offense by a subordinate against a minor.
Father Lawrence Johnson, 55, was arrested on Dec. 2, 2015, accused of having engaged in "sexual activities against the order of nature" with a boy aged 13. Police also charged him with violating several sections of POCSO.
The victim’s family accused the three prelates of not initiating action against the priest, who remains in prison.
However, archdiocesan spokesman Father Nigel Barrett told ucanews.com that the victim’s family approached police while the Church was planning to report it.
“There is no truth in the complaint and in the subsequent police case. The bishops have sought the intervention of the High Court to quash the police case,” he told ucanews.com.
The alleged incident took place on Nov. 27, 2015, according to the police complaint. 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 diocese said his parents called on Cardinal Gracias three days after the alleged sexual violation took place.
The cardinal, who was leaving for Rome that night, discussed the issue for over an hour with the parents and assured them of all his support. He also immediately suspended the accused priest from priestly ministries and ordered an inquiry, Father Barrett told ucanews.com.
The cardinal arranged for the complaint to be reported to police the next day. But the family “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,” Father Barrett said.
Legal experts say that if the prelates fail to get any relief from the High Court, they can appeal in the Supreme Court, the top court in India.
If the Supreme Court also refuses to quash the case, the prelates will have to face the police investigation.
Cardinal Gracias is a member of the Council of Cardinal Advisers to Pope Francis and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.