Indian church to deal with 'benchmark' clergy abuse case

Case will test new norms and procedures promulgated by Indian bishops' conference
A Catholic priest has been arrested for allegedly sodomizing a 13-year old boy in India's Mumbai Archdiocese.

Mumbai police arrested Father Lawrence Johnson, 51, accused of abusing the boy on Nov. 27 at Christ the King Church parish, archdiocesan spokesman Father Nigel Barret told ucanews.com Dec. 7.

The priest is "now under judicial custody," Father Barret said adding that Father Johnson was arrested Dec. 1 following complaints from the alleged victim's family.

"Representatives of the archdiocese have met with the victim and his family ... All assistance is currently being rendered to the victim's family," Father Barret said.

The case is the first reported case of clergy sex abuse since the church in India put in effect on Nov. 1 a Vatican-approved procedure to deal with allegations of sex abuse by Catholic clergy.

"The procedure has zero tolerance toward clergy sex abuses" and puts in place stringent and transparent investigative methods, said Father Joseph Chinnayan, deputy secretary general of the Indian bishops' conference.

 

Benchmark abuse case

Virginia Saldanha, a Catholic theologian and women's right activist, said Catholic leaders across India will be watching how the archdiocese handles the case.

"This is the first publicized case of child sex abuse by a member of clergy (since the new procedures were put in place). It will surely be a benchmark on how the church is prepared to deal with such cases," she told ucanews.com.

Father Barret said the archdiocese will send the results of its investigation to the Vatican to determine further canonical action. If found guilty, Father Johnson will be defrocked or laicized, he said.

Saldanha, an outspoken activist on the rights of abuse victims, wondered why church officials have not published for public consumption the procedural norms on dealing with clergy abuses.

"The norms need to be published. That will show their earnestness to rout out this crime of abuse," she said.

"Perhaps they fear publishing the norms will open a flood-gate of complaints of sexual abuse," she added.

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