The Mumbai Police have been ordered to investigate accusations that Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay, and two auxiliary bishops covered up an accusation of clerical sexual abuse in 2015.
The order dated May 7 came from a Special POCSO Court that was established under the 2012 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Father Lawrence Johnson was arrested in 2016 on allegations of sexually abusing a minor boy. The boy’s family briefly met Cardinal Gracias on November 30, 2015, shortly before he was scheduled to leave for Rome, and informed him of the alleged abuse.
The victim’s father told the court that Bishop John Rodrigues conducted an internal inquiry into the allegation, but refused to share details with the parents and did not report the allegation to the police.
According to the 2012 law, all allegations of sexual abuse should be reported to the police. “Investigation is required to find out when and where the applicant, his wife and the victim met and with whom and gave what information and whether the said persons, have conducted any inquiry and [despite] having knowledge did not give information to the police as required under Section19 of POCSO Act,” the court order said.
Not disclosed earlier
The court said neither the father nor any other witnesses had earlier disclosed the failure to report the offence by the three prelates. “There was no investigation carried out by the police in that regard, as is revealed from the reply of the investigating officer,” the court said in its order.
The law prescribes a maximum sentence of one year’s imprisonment if a person in charge of an institution fails to report an offence by a subordinate under his or her control.
A statement from the archdiocese in February said the Cardinal had immediately granted the request to meet the family after hearing of the accusation, and had met the victim, his parents and a family friend, who alleged that Father Johnson had sexually abused the child.
“The Cardinal tried to console the parents. The Cardinal was to leave for Rome that same night. After the complainants left, the Cardinal at once phoned up Father Johnson and informed him of the allegations made against him, and although Father Johnson denied the allegations, the Cardinal removed him from office immediately and told him that he was not even allowed to celebrate Mass the next morning. Father Johnson wanted to meet the Cardinal personally, but the Cardinal told him that he was leaving for Rome in a couple of hours and to meet Bishop John Rodrigues instead,” the statement said.
The archdiocese said Cardinal Gracias immediately phoned his auxiliary and asked him to keep in touch with the family, and upon arrival in Rome, he called Bishop Rodrigues about contacting the police.