ucanews.com reporter, New DelhiUpdated: July 02, 2019 11:47 AM GMT
A file image of Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias arriving for Mass in St. Peter's Basilica ahead of a papal election conclave on March 12, 2013. (Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP)
An Indian court hearing sex abuse cover-up charges against Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay and his two auxiliary bishops has asked police not to take any coercive action against the prelates.
The Bombay High Court, of western Maharashtra state, on July 1 also asked police and the parents of the abuse victim to file their responses seeking to substantiate the cover-up allegations.
The court was hearing the petition filed by Cardinal Gracias and auxiliary bishops Dominic Savio and John Rodrigues, which sought to quash the case, which is based on a claim that they failed to act against an archdiocese priest accused of molesting a child.
The prelates are challenging the "maintainability" of the case, their lawyer, Jayant Joseph Bardeskar, told ucanews.com July 1.
The complaint was registered in May following the direction of a special court dealing with cases covered by the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act.
The law provides for 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.
The court wants to hear from the parents of the alleged victim before passing a final order, Bardeskar said.
Police arrested Father Lawrence Johnson, 55, on Dec. 2, 2015, on charges 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 the POCSO law.
The parents have maintained that the cardinal did not inform police of abuses by the priest, nor had the auxiliaries done so. The parents also maintained that they were not informed of the outcome of an internal church probe.
"We had taken our boy to show him his condition; there as no positive response from the cardinal," the child's mother told ucanews.com.
"He was behaving as if nothing had happened. If he was serious, he would have informed the police instantly, which he did not do," she said.
The mother requested that her name not be published.
Joseph Soares, a social activist supporting the family, has raised questions about how the cardinal's office handled the allegations against Father Johnson.
However, the archdiocese maintains the church officials were planning to file a complaint with police, but did not as the family did so first.
Archdiocesan spokesperson Father Nigel Barret maintains that the cardinal was leaving for Rome that night, but discussed the issue for over an hour and promised support for the alleged victim and his family.
He also immediately suspended the accused priest from priestly ministries and ordered an inquiry, Father Barret said.