MUMBAI - Police in India are investigating a claim that Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay and two auxiliary bishops covered up an accusation of clerical sexual abuse involving a minor that reportedly occurred four years ago.
In 2015, a 13 year-old boy was reportedly abused by a Catholic priest, Father Lawrence Johnson, after evening prayer, according to UCA News.
The alleged abuse was reportedly confirmed by medical professionals and reported to police by the boy’s parents, UCA News reported. Johnson was arrested Dec. 2, 2015, and has remained in custody since then. Johnson was charged with violating multiple parts of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
The father of the boy has now claimed to authorities that Cardinal Gracias and two of his auxiliaries, Bishops Savio Fernandes and John Rodrigues, had attempted to cover up the abuse and did not properly report the accusation to authorities.
A POCSO court ordered Mumbai police May 7 to launch an investigation into the claim, reported The Hindu, an Indian daily. The father of the boy told the court that at the time of the incident, Bishop Rodrigues launched an internal, ecclesial investigation of the matter, but never told the family the results of the investigation, and did not inform police of the incident.
Father Nigel Barrett, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay, told UCA News that the archdiocese welcomes the investigation, because it has “nothing to hide.”
According to a “detailed note” from the archdiocese, reviewed by UCA News, the archdiocese said that Gracias and the auxiliary bishops did not report the abuse claim to the police because the parents of the boy had already done so.
In the note, Barrett said that Gracias removed Johnson from active ministry Nov. 30, as soon as he found out about the allegation. Gracias tried to reach the family of the boy involved to console them, Barrett said. Gracias also reached out to Rodrigues to ask him to handle the matter because he had to leave on a flight to Rome that night.
Once he landed, Gracias phoned Rodrigues from Rome, asking the auxiliary bishop about informing the police of the matter. Rodrigues told Gracias that the family had already done so.
Barret told UCA News that archdiocesan officials then met with the family, and reached out to them multiple times to offer counseling or medical help, but that their offers were declined by the family.
According to The Hindu, Indian law states that if a person in charge of an institution fails to report an offense committed by one of their subordinates, they could face up to one year in prison.