NEW DELHI: One of the Catholic Church’s most senior cardinals has admitted that he could have better handled sexual abuse allegations that were brought to him.
According to a BBC report, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Mumbai, said that it pained him to hear accusations that he had neglected victims of alleged abuse.
Cardinal Gracias is one of the four men organising a major Vatican conference on child abuse this week.
According to the report, there are two separate cases where the Cardinal, who is tipped by some to possibly become the next Pope, is claimed to have failed to respond quickly or offer support to the victims.
Victims and those who supported them allege that Cardinal Gracias did not take allegations of abuse seriously when they were reported to him.
As per the report, the first case dates back to 2015 in Mumbai. A woman’s life changed when her son returned from Mass at church and told her that the parish priest had raped him. “I could not understand what I should do?” she said.
It was nearly 72 hours after the alleged rape that the family briefly met Cardinal Gracias, then president of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India and Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
The mother of the abused boy said: “I told the cardinal about what the priest had done to my child, that my child was in a lot of pain. So he prayed for us and told us he had to go to Rome…my heart was hurt in that moment. As a mother, I had gone to him with great expectations that he would think about my son, give me justice, but he said he had no time, he only cared about going to Rome.” The family said they requested medical help but were offered none.
The Cardinal said it pained him to hear this, and that he was not aware that the boy needed medical help – and if he had been asked, he would have immediately offered it.
The Cardinal admitted he left for Rome that night without alerting the authorities. By failing to call the police, Cardinal Gracias may have violated the nation’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO).
The provisions of this law state that if the head of any company or institution fails to report the commission of an offence in respect of a subordinate under his control, they shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, and with a fine.
According to the report, the Cardinal said he had telephoned his bishop the next day, who told him the family had subsequently informed the police themselves. Asked if he regretted not calling the police personally at the time, he said: “You know I’m being honest, I’m not 100 per cent sure…but I must reflect on that. I admit whether immediately, the police should have got involved, sure.” He said he was under a duty to evaluate the credibility of accusations by speaking to the accused man.
Emerging from that meeting, the family decided to go to a doctor.
“He took one look at my boy and said that something has happened to him. This is a police case. Either you report it or I will…so we went to the police that night,” the mother said. A police medical examination found that the child had been sexually assaulted.
The report quotes another priest, who, on the condition of anonymity, said that this was not the first time that allegations about the priest had been brought to the Cardinal’s attention.
The report also mentions about another instance dating back almost a decade, when the Cardinal was slow to act.
In March 2009, a woman approached him with accusations of sexual abuse by another priest, who conducted retreats.
The woman said that the Cardinal took no action against the priest so she reached out to a group of female Catholic activists, who said they forced the Cardinal to act.
Under pressure, he finally set up an inquiry committee in December 2011. Six months after the inquiry, there was still no action and the accused priest continued working in his parish.