Mumbai: Cardinal ‘asks pardon’ after priest convicted for child abuse

The Times of India [Mumbai, India]

December 31, 2021

By Bella Jaisinghani

The archbishop of Bombay Oswald Cardinal Gracias has “sought pardon” from the community after the conviction of a Catholic priest under the POCSO Act. He said he continued to pray for both the victim and his abuser.

On December 29, Fr Lawrence Johnson, former priest of Christ The King Church in Shivaji Nagar, was sentenced to life imprisonment for sodomising a 13-year-boy inside the church in 2015.

The Cardinal on Friday said: “I was very distressed to learn that Fr Lawrence Johnson was convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a minor. I deeply sympathise with the victim and the family. I ask pardon that a representative of the Church, appointed to be in charge of the community, was responsible for this.”

He addressed the victim’s mother’s accusations that the church “abandoned and harassed” them during their struggle for justice. “Several invitations by my secretary to the victim’s parents to discuss assistance got no positive response. This invitation still stands. The Dean and the newly appointed parish priest also attempted to reach out to the family. It is relevant to record that only recently the victim was admitted to one of our Institutions at the intervention of our office.”

Cardinal Gracias is the head of the Catholic Church in India, and a frequent visitor to the Vatican in Rome. He said, “As the case has been concluded in the courts, I am recommending to the Roman Offices that the canonical proceedings which were suspended due to the ongoing hearings be now resumed. As I was leaving for Rome hours after the complaint, an auxiliary bishop was delegated to supervise the hearings, contact the police and keep in touch with the family. Our records show that the church hearings began the very next day after the complaint was filed. Fr Lawrence was arrested the same night, and the priests were asked to meet the family.”

The Cardinal said he continued to pray for the victim and “understands their pain, anguish and anger”. He added, “I also pray for Fr Lawrence Johnson.”

(The victim’s identity has not been revealed to protect her privacy as per Supreme Court directives on cases related to sexual assault)