By Matters India Reporter
Mumbai, June 24, 2019: Cardinal Oswald Gracias and two auxiliary bishops of Bombay archdiocese are facing charges of inaction over a child abuse case complaint against a priest.
The cardinal and Bishops Dominic Savio Fernandes and John Rodrigues recently approached the Bombay High Court to get the case withdrawn.
The bench of justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre, who heard the plea on June 17, has posted the matter for hearing at a later date.
According to the police, a minor boy was sodomized on November 27, 2015, by Father Lawrence Johnson, who was then his parish priest. Three days later, the boy’s parents filed a complaint at Shivaji Nagar police station that the priest had abused their child.
In February this year, the parents approached the special Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act court hearing the case, alleging that Cardinal Gracias had ignored their complaint. They said the cardinal did not report the matter to the police although he was informed about it soon after the incident.
The parents also wanted the other two bishops named as co-accused in the case.
The POCSO court directed the police to study the allegations following which the three prelates were named in a first information report (FIR) registered by the Shivaji Nagar police in June this year.
They three were booked under section 21 of the POSCO Act that requires mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse cases. “The police registered a case against the accused on the directions of the POCSO court,” an officer from the Shivaji Nagar police station told reporters.
The three prelates then moved the high court against the lower court’s order.
Cardinal Gracias told the high court that he did not inform the police about the alleged abuse because the boy’s parents had already informed them, who then registered a complaint.
The petition from the cardinal and the two bishops urged the high court to quash the Pocso court’s May 7order to the police to investigate whether the prelates “conducted any inquiry and despite having received knowledge did not give information to the police” under section 19 of the Pocso Act.
The prelates also wanted the recent FIR by the Shivaji Nagar police quashed.
The section 19 deals with reporting of sexual offences, section 21 (2) prescribes imprisonment up to a year if a person in charge of an institution fails to report an offence by a subordinate under his control.
The prelate’s petition states that the boy’s father had filed a complaint in respect of the alleged incident.
“Therefore there was no question of again intimating the concerned police station about the alleged offence because already the police were informed and the police had already taken cognisance by registering an FIR, therefore there is no offence committed by the petitioner no 3 (the cardinal) as alleged by the complainant for non-compliance of section 19 of Pocso Act,” the prelates’ petition adds.
The petition also informed the court that the cardinal had directed an inquiry as soon as he received the November 30, 2015, complaint letter and learnt, a day later in Rome, that the FIR was registered.
“Therefore, the present petitioners cannot be held liable for prosecution under section 21 of Pocso Act for non-compliance of section 19.” The petition claims the three prelates are “innocent” and were “falsely implicated” in the case.
The archdiocese did not response to queries from Matters India on this case.
Jayant Bardeskar, counsel for the three prelates, reportedly said, “It will be premature to comment on what grounds we are moving the plea. All I can say is that we have filed a petition against the order of the lower court.”
Meanwhile a source close to the archdiocese says the inclusion of Bishop Savio Fernandes in the FIR is puzzling since he was not in the city when the complaint was brought to the Church authorities.