Police are also probing whether Bishop Thomas Dabre of Pune tried to cover up Father Vincent Pereira's alleged crime
A photo of Father Vincent Pereira as featured on his former school's website. (UCA News files)
An Indian Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing a boy has surrendered before the police as they began a probe against Bishop Thomas Dabre of Pune for allegedly attempting to cover up the crime.
Father Vincent Pereira, 55, of Pune in the western state of Maharashtra presented himself before the police on Oct 23, ending his nearly month-long efforts to evade arrest. He is alleged to have abused a 15-year-old boy at his parents’ home on Dec. 4 last year.
Police said the priest had been in hiding ever since they booked him on Sept. 30 under India’s stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
A local court on Oct. 21 granted the priest anticipatory bail that prevented police from arresting him while directing him to cooperate with the investigators.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Namrata Patil told UCA News that the police were “also probing the role of the bishop as his name is there” in the case.
A team of policemen led by a woman officer visited the Bishop’s House last week and Bishop Dabre was summoned to the Kondhwa police station to record his statement the next day.
DCP Patil said a report on the findings would also be submitted to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) as sought by it within four weeks.
Dominic Lobo, a local Catholic activist, had written to the NHRC on Sep. 26 after police appeared to ignore his complaint against the priest.
The legal process of registering a First Information Report (FIR), containing essential information about the alleged crime, and launching investigations were set in motion after Maruti Bhapkar, a social activist, visited the Kondhwa police station.
As stated in the written complaint seen by UCA News, Father Pereira sexually abused the boy while Bishop Dabre and Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Bombay, allegedly did not act against the priest despite complaints from the survivor’s family members.
“After he [Father Pereira] left, the boy, who was terribly afraid, narrated the ordeal to his parents. They approached Bishop Thomas Dabre seeking action against the priest. When no action was taken, the survivor’s family wrote to Cardinal Oswald Gracias in Mumbai seeking action but he too did not take action, which emboldened Father Pereira further,” the FIR has stated.
Senior Police Inspector Sardar Patil of Kondhwa police station said the investigation is on.
That Father Pereira could evade the police for a record 20 days and move the local court for interim bail is a blot on the image of Pune police, Lobo said.
He also expressed surprise that the priest whose past as a sexual predator of minors was known could get bail from a court.
Father Pereira was originally suspended from public ministries after police arrested him in September 2018 for abusing a teenage boy in a diocesan school where he was the principal.
He was released on bail by the Bombay high court in March 2020 after spending 18 months in jail and thereafter lived at the Nava Sadhana Pastoral Centre of the Pune Diocese.
“The police are investigating Bishop Dabre’s role and we will provide them with clinching and irrefutable evidence of his inaction, cover-up and abatement, which will nail him conclusively,” Lobo said.
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