ucanews.com reporter, KochiUpdated: July 08, 2019 10:20 AM GMT
Pope Francis issued new regulations in May holding bishops and religious superiors responsible for curbing clerical abuse of minors. (Photo from Pixabay)
Police have remanded a Catholic priest in custody after he was accused of sexually abusing minors at a boys' home in India's Kerala state.
Father George Jerry, 40, a member of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites, was arrested on July 7 following complaints from parents of six children aged 6 to 13 that he abused them sexually, police inspector Joy Mathew told ucanews.com.
A court in the southern state ordered that Father Jerry remain in custody for at least 14 days while police investigations continue, the officer said.
The accused faces charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act of 2012.
Father Augustine Mulloor, provincial superior of St. Pious X Province to which the accused priest belongs, said the Catholic Church follows a "zero tolerance" policy on the sexual violation of minors. He said the Discalced Carmelites would assist the police probe.
The provincial said he empathized with the alleged victims and added that, although the allegations are not yet proved, his religious congregation would "not do anything to protect the accused priest or do anything to influence the investigation."
The congregation has already started an internal probe as required by church laws, he said.
However, such "isolated incidents" should not affect the humanitarian services of the Catholic Church, the provincial said in an officially released statement.
Inspector Mathew said the boys' home houses poor children, mostly from broken families or of single parents.
The state-run Child Welfare Committee intervened and sent most of the boys to be back with their parents.
Six boys, accompanied by their parents, turned up to a police station on the morning of July 7 and filed complaints of repeated sexual abuse by the priest since December 2018. The priest allegedly slept with some of the boys.
However, an official of the congregation denied the allegation that the accused was an habitual offender.
"We are hearing about such an allegation for the first time," said Father Wilson Srampickal, who is a counselor. The congregation is fully cooperating with police as it wants to know the truth, he told ucanews.com.
The congregation has constituted its own three-member committee to conduct the internal probe.
If Father Jerry was found guilty by a court of the alleged offenses, canonical actions including defrocking could be initiated against him, Father Srampickal said.
Pope Francis issued new regulations in May holding bishops and religious superiors responsible for curbing clerical abuse of minors.
The new procedures make it obligatory for clerics and religious to report abuses and requires every diocese in the Catholic Church to have a system to help members of public to easily file complaints about alleged clerical abuses.