Senior Indian clergy face charge in sex assault case

Preda Foundation

December 5, 2022

By Michael Gonsalves for UCA News

Several senior Church figures have been charged with trying to protect a Catholic priest arrested and remanded in police custody in western India at the weekend.

A bishop, two cardinals and two priests are accused of failing to take action over an alleged assault by the priest on a schoolboy. 

Father Vincent Pereira was arrested late on Nov. 25 in the city of Pune and remanded in police custody a day later after being accused of sexually assaulting the schoolboy.

The arrest of the 55-year-old Catholic priest from Pune diocese followed his conditional release by a court the same day in connection with similar complaints lodged against him.

However, several senior Church figures were also named in the latest complaint, a copy of which was seen by UCA News, and charged with trying to protect the priest.

The accused clergymen were Bishop Thomas Dabre of PuneCardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India; Cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrao, Archbishop of Goa and president of the Latin rite bishops’ conference; Father Rock Green, Judicial Vicar of Pune diocese; and Father Malcolm Sequira, Vicar General of Pune diocese.

“We arrested Father Pereira under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences [POCSO] Act after a complaint related to sexual abuse of a minor was lodged against him. The priest sexually assaulted the boy after meeting him at Pune railway station before he and his parents could board the train to Kerala,” Shilpa Lambe, an assistant police inspector, told UCA News.

The police officer said the accused has had two other POCSO-related cases lodged against him in the past.

According to the complaint: “Father Vincent Pereira sexually abused a 15-year-old boy at Pune railway station. When the parents of the victim complained to Bishop Thomas Dabre and the Pune Catholic diocesan committee, no legal action was taken against the offender by either the bishop or the church committee. They also did not lodge a complaint with the police which was expected of them.”

The complaint, known as a first information report (FIR), was filed on Nov. 25 by prominent Catholic social activist Dominic Lobo at Bund Garden police station in the district where the alleged offense was committed.

“It is a false case lodged against Father Pereira. Besides him, one bishop, two cardinals and two Catholic priests have been named in the FIR as co-accused on the grounds that they did not take legal action against Pereira,” Milind Pawar, the criminal lawyer defending Father Pereira, said.

Pawar said police in the Wanorie district of the city had arrested the priest in 2018 but he was released on bail after spending 18 months in jail.

More recently Fr. Pereira had obtained ad-interim anticipatory bail from a special court after police from another police station had booked him for sexually assaulting a boy. A special court last Friday heard the bail plea and reserved its ruling till Nov. 28.

Later that day Bund Garden police arrested the priest again.

“Although I am happy that the heinous perpetrator priest has been put behind bars, the saddening part is that higher authorities like the bishop and cardinals who are also responsible for the priest’s dastardly crimes are free and showing their disregard for the law and the judiciary,” Lobo the Catholic complainant said. 

“But the long arm of the law will catch them all, sooner or later,” he added.