Three pastors including Bombay archbishop booked in the sexual assault case of minor boy

On Friday, three pastors were charged under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) in a sexual assault case of a 15-year-old boy in Pune, Maharashtra. While the primary accused in the case identified as Father Vincent Pereira is still absconding, two prominent pastors have been booked for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old kid at his house in December last year.

According to the reports, when the alleged act was committed, Pereira (56) was out on bail in another case of sexual misconduct. He had spent 18 months in Pune’s Yerwada jail in another POCSO case. The case dated back to 2018 when the accused assaulted a student studying in class 8 while he acted as the principal of St Patrick’s High School in the district. He also showed the kid pornographic videos and tortured him for worse. He was residing at Navsadhana Pastoral Centre after he was released on bail.

In the current case, the accused who was staying at a pastoral centre visited the house of the victim and sexually assaulted a 15-year-old boy in December last year. The complaint stated that the family members of the victim informed about the incident to Thomas Dabre (77), the bishop of the Pune diocese, and Cardinal Oswald Gracias (70), the Archbishop of Bombay. However, the duo failed to act against Pereira. The family of the 15-year-old also alleged that they went to five police stations over the next three months after the alleged assault, seeking an FIR, but a complaint was only filed after they approached two Pune-based activists in August.

Activists Maruti Bhapkar and Dominique Lobo also initially were not entertained until they contacted the Pune police commissioner on August 17 this year. Later they were compelled to go to the National Human Rights Commission in September which recorded the statements of the family of the victim and issued a notice to the police. On September 30, an FIR was filed in response to Bhapkar’s complaint at the Hadapsar police station, and the case was later moved to Kondhwa.

The Newslaundry happened to talk to Pune Police Commissioner Amitabh Gupta who said that the prime accused in the case had been arrested and the investigations were underway to check on the other two accused. However, Kondhwa police station inspector Sardar Patil revealed that the prime accused in the case Pereira is still absconding. “Pereira is absconding but we will arrest him soon. We haven’t arrested the bishop and the cardinal as it seems they were not involved in the act, but we have not given them any clean chit. We have booked them for not reporting the crime despite being aware of it”, Patil added.

Meanwhile, accused Dabre has denied all the allegations posed against him and has said that he is beholden to the Pope and his staff. “This whole thing is fabricated. I only act according to church law. You have to understand that I am beholden to the civil authorities whom I obey but I am also beholden to the Pope and his staff. I have reported the matter to them and I have been doing what I was told by them…My job was only to inform the police, my job was not to file the FIR…I cannot go beyond my brief…I am in charge of the Pune diocese and have to take care of many things”, he was quoted.

The family of the victim said that they visited five police stations in Pune- Hadapsar, Kondhwa, Wanawadi, Bund Garden, and Pune railway stations over December, January, and February to complain, but no FIR was filed. Then they asked the Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Gracias, to look into the matter. He responded to the parents in March over the phone and asked the bishop of Pune to do the needful.

Later in April, one of the pastors in Pune named Father Wilfred Francis wrote to the Kondhwa police station with a complaint on the direction of the bishop of Pune. But according to the family, no action was taken in the case by the Police. Reports mention that the family knew the accused well and had helped him while he was staying at Navsadhana Pastoral Centre post bail in another POCSO case. The accused was not allowed to step out of the pastoral centre without Dabre’s permission. But he happened to violate the rules to visit the victim’s house where he sexually assaulted the 15-year-old boy.

The family of the victim said that they sought help from Dabre, and also contacted the archbishop but were helped by none. “Neither the church nor the police authorities came to our rescue to get justice for our child”, they said. One of the activists named Bhapkar who helped the family in the case said that both, the bishop and the archbishop tried to protect the prime accused in the case.

“As per rules under the POCSO Act, the person in charge of the institution needs to report such cases to the police…none of them took any action against the accused person. Police are under a lot of pressure as the matter involves high-profile people”, added another activist, Lobo.

Father Vincent Pereira, the prime accused has already served 18 months of jail under the POCSO act in another sexual misconduct case. Also, Cardinal Gracias had earlier failed to report cases of sexual abuse. The complaint against accused Father Vincent Pereira, Thomas Dabre, the bishop of Pune diocese, and Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay under the POCSO act. Further investigations into the case are underway.

Source: OpIndia

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