Mumbai: While the Archbishop of Mumbai, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, was busy attending the Vatican’s first summit on sexual abuse Thursday, a city court was hearing an application seeking action against him and two others for failing to act on a report of sexual abuse of a child.
In his application to a Mumbai Sessions court, accessed by ThePrint, the victim’s father has alleged that though the family met Gracias — in the running to be Pope — and told him about the incident, he neither took action nor reported the matter to the police.
‘Parish abuse child’
In December 2015, the victim’s family complained to the police that Father Lawrence Johnson, the then parish priest of a church in Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, assaulted their child in church.
The family came to know about the alleged sexual assault on November 27, 2015.
According to the complaint, Johnson called the victim, a teenage boy, inside a storeroom to move a box when he visited the church. He then closed the door from inside and sexually assaulted him, it states. A medical report, too, showed injuries to the boy’s private parts.
The application was filed in the 2015 case under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
In 2017, the court framed charges against Johnson under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which deals with unnatural sexual offences, and sections under the POCSO Act.
The application also names Zonal Bishop Dominic Savio, who allegedly didn’t respond to the victim’s family’s call for help, and Bishop John Rodrigues, who is said to have conducted an inquiry and recorded statements — which he failed to share with the family.
Bishop Savio and Bishop Rodrigues did not respond to calls made by ThePrint. This report will be updated when they respond.
Advocate Charmaine Boccaro, representing the victim in court, told ThePrint, “We have moved an application to say that they (the archbishop and two others) failed to act on the complaint and the court should take action. Appropriate action should be taken as per Section 19 of the POCSO Act. The court has asked for the reply of the accused and the prosecution.”
According to Section 19 of the POCSO Act, any person, including the child, having an apprehension that an offence under this Act is likely to be committed or such an offence has been committed, shall provide this information either to the special juvenile police force or the local police.
‘Cardinal did not take action’
The application states the family called Zonal Bishop Savio immediately after they came to know about the alleged sexual assault.
“The first informant did not get any reply and went to the Archbishop’s house at Colaba and met Cardinal Oswald Gracias,” the application says.
“The cardinal made him come for three days and finally gave an appointment November 30, 2015, for five minutes as he was leaving for Rome. Despite informing about the incidents of abuse by Father Lawrence Johnson the cardinal did not take any action nor reported the matter to the police as is required under Section 19 of the POCSO Act,” it adds.
The family then registered a complaint with the Shivaji Nagar police station.
The victim’s family also said that since August 2018, they have been contacted by the archbishop’s secretary. “…since August-September 2018, Father KT Emmanuel has been calling the first informant and his wife to meet the cardinal,” their application says.
‘Will respond to court appropriately’
Father Nigel Barrett, spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Bombay, said, “Bishop Dominic Savio was not even in town at the time so to hold him responsible for not taking action when he was not even in Mumbai is not correct. Regarding the rest, it is a matter under judicial purview, we will respond to the application appropriately in court.”
Before the victim’s family filed the application in court, the BBC asked Gracias if he regretted not calling the police personally.
“You know I am being honest, I am not 100 per cent sure…but I must reflect on that. I admit whether immediately, the police should have got involved, sure,” the archbishop said.
Community’s split verdict
Activists from Mumbai’s Catholic community are, however, divided over whether the cardinal should be held responsible.
“The very fact that the case in reference is now under trial shows that the church did not try to block it. It is wrong to allege that nothing was done and connecting that with the present situation is not correct,” said Dolphy D’Souza, former president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha.
“The church is reflecting and the holy father is very concerned about this larger issue of sexual harassment. Robust systems need to be put in place to address situations like these as otherwise not only the fair name of the church gets embroiled, but it also impacts the faith of the people,” he added.
But Melwyn Fernandes, secretary, Association of Concerned Catholics, said: “The case against Father Lawrence has been going on for four years now, but the priest has still not been disrobed. How can the cardinal be a member of an international panel at the Vatican on child sexual abuse? He should take care of his own house first.”
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