Life sentence to priest: Victim’s family says faith restored in ‘justice and Jesus’

The Times of India [Mumbai, India]

December 29, 2021

By Bella Jaisinghani

The life sentence awarded to Fr Lawrence Johnson by a POCSO court has restored the faith of the victim’s family in “justice and Jesus”.

The boy’s mother in a tearful interview said that “Jesus had answered her prayer at Christmas”. “The courts have pronounced Fr Lawrence guilty today. But I held him guilty on the very day of the assault. He even knelt before me and admitted his crime. My faith in the men that run the Church is broken but my faith in Jesus is unshakeable.”

The 13-year-old faced the latest in a series of assaults inside Christ The King Church, Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, on November 27, 2015 that left him bleeding and bruised. He is now 18 years old, and is still undergoing treatment for bodily ailments apart from suffering hallucinations and nightmares.

His mother said, “Supporters of Fr Lawrence even held a morcha against us while we were inside the police station premises. They claimed we were filing a false case to extort money from the Church. My bleeding child escaped their notice. They made it impossible for us to continue living in Shivaji Nagar by their taunts and criticism. We repeatedly shifted residence from Govandi to Santacruz and then Chembur. Even now when I visit to seek documents from the church, they surround us with abuse.”

The family accused the Catholic Church hierarchy of abandoning them in their struggle for justice. The boy’s mother squarely blamed the Archbishop of Bombay, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, for “harassing the victim while harbouring the accused priest”. Fr Lawrence was arrested from Archbishop House.

“Before approaching the police, I took my wounded son to the Cardinal that night. He was bleeding and could barely walk. But the Cardinal said to me in Marathi that he was leaving for Rome and would address the matter after his return. I was a broken mother that day,” she said. 

They family also denied that the Archdiocese gave any help towards medical costs or legal aid, let alone moral support, as it claimed to this newspaper in 2015. “It is a blatant lie. The only person who stood by us was Brother Joe of SSVP,” the mother said.

The office of the Archbishop did not comment on Wednesday’s verdict or respond to the mother’s allegations.  

Bro. Joseph Soares of SSVP (Society of St Vincent de Paul), an old friend of the family said, “I took them to the Cardinal but he gave them the cold shoulder. One parish official told them to forget the matter, after all, it is a boy not a girl that has been abused!” 

Activists were pleased because Wednesday’s verdict is likely the first conviction of a Catholic priest is a POSCO case under the Bombay Archdiocese. Melwyn Fernandes of AOCC (Association of Concerned Catholics) said, “We counselled the boy and our lawyer intervened in the POCSO. The family was harassed by supporters of Fr Lawrence Johnson. Finally they changed the parish. After today’s conviction either the Vatican or Archdiocese of Bombay should defrock Fr Lawrence with immediate effect.”