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Indian cardinal to be investigated over abuse cover-up claim

Archdiocesan spokesperson welcomes police probe, says there is nothing to hide reporter, New Delhi reporter, New Delhi

Updated: May 22, 2019 11:04 AM GMT
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Indian cardinal to be investigated over abuse cover-up claim

A 2013 file image of Cardinal Oswald Gracias who currently serves as the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. (Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)

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A court in western India has initiated an investigation into whether Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay and two of his auxiliary bishops failed to take action over the alleged sexual abuse of a minor.

There has been a claim that the trio did not implement disciplinary measures or report the crime to police.

A special court dealing with such cases May 21 asked police to probe the role of the cardinal and his auxiliaries, Bishop Dominic Savio and Bishop John Rodrigues.

"We welcome the police probe," said archdiocesan spokesperson Father Nigel Barrett. "We have nothing to hide."

He said church authorities had been intending to report the matter to police but the victim's parents did so first.

Archdiocesan Father Lawrence Johnson, 55, was arrested 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 country's Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

The priest remains in custody while the cases against him are heard.

Police arrested Father Johnson based on the complaint of the child's parents.

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.

The archdiocesan spokesperson, in a detailed note, said the cardinal removed the priest from office on Nov. 30, 2015, as soon as he came to know about the complaint and initiated a church investigation.

“The cardinal tried to console the parents,” Father Barrett said.

The cardinal was to leave for Rome that same night, so he asked auxiliary Bishop Rodrigues to deal with the matter.

The cardinal had called his auxiliary from Rome as soon as he landed to inquire about informing the police.

At that time, Bishop Rodrigues told the cardinal that the police had been informed by the family the previous night, Father Barrett stated.

A senior priest of the archdiocese along with an animator from the parish met the father of the boy at their home in a bid to ascertain how they could be of help to him or the child, but were purportedly told there was no need.

Church people also offered medical help and counseling, but the victim's father was said to have thanked them and declined the offer.

"Many other attempts were made to reach out to the victim, but the family declined any help," Father Barrett said.

He told that archdiocesan lawyers are studying how "suddenly a new angle is given to the already 4-year-old-case."

According to the lawyers, there has been no direct court order against the cardinal or the other bishops, only a direction to the police to look into the father’s allegations.

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