MUMBAI, India – A priest in India has been convicted of abusing a teenage boy in 2015.
Father Lawrence Johnson was arrested in 2016, and the parents later accused Cardinal Oswald Gracias and auxiliary Bishop Dominic Savio Fernandes of not reporting the incident to police.
However, a court later ordered the investigation into the prelates dropped, since the boys father had reported the incident to the authorities before he met with the cardinal and had informed Gracias he had done so during the meeting.
Charmaine Bocarro, the victim’s lawyer, said it was a “landmark” judgement, “as the victim got justice.”
She said Johnson had “financial might and the pressure from [his] supporters” backing him, causing “innumerable” problems for the victim’s case.
Bocarro worked the case free of charge.
“I have always worked for the poor, women, and marginalized. There are very few who stand up for them,” she said.
Catholics in India hope the case provides a learning curve for the Church in handling clerical abuse.
“By this verdict, the archdiocese can make strong and efficient rules to protect the young kids from sexual harassment and exploitation. If the rules are made to protect kids within church premises and activities, it will have a long-term impact in living a quality life,” said Dr. Pascoal Carvalho, a Mumbai-based member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Catholic layman Joaquim Reis, a senior advocate (a high-ranking lawyer) told Crux, “It is a very sad state of affairs that a Catholic priest has been convicted by Sessions Court of such a serious offence. It is unfortunate that the priest who is otherwise the ‘guardian of the conscience of people’ and is supposed to show high ethical values is involved in such a crime.”
Mumbai-based Sister Arina Gonsalves is a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and has worked as a consulter to the Archdiocese of Bombay in cases of sexual abuse of minors.
“We respect the court of law and justice to the victim and his family. May the verdict bring healing and peace to him and his family,” she told Crux.