Indian church to look into abusive priests issue


New Delhi : Upset over media reports of Pope Benedict XVI failing to deal with abusive priests, the Indian Catholic Church has called a meeting of bishops on the issue to draw up guidelines on how to tackle the problem.

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“In the coming weeks the Indian Bishops’ Conference will gather to study the issue and draw up guidelines on how to tackle these problems,” newly elected president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) Cardinal Oswald Gracias told a church publication Tuesday.

The decision came in the wake of an attorney representing a girl, who says she was abused by an Indian priest in Minnesota, alleged that the Vatican declined to probe the priest, Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, after repeated warnings from other church officials in 2005 and 2006.

Rev. Palanivel Jeyapaul was formally charged by the US authorities in 2007 with sexually assaulting a teenage girl. But the priest, who was removed by the Ooty diocese from pastoral duties, has continued to work at a Catholic school under the diocese.

Defending the church and the pope, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who is also the archbishop of Mumbai, said: “The accusations of inaction on the part of Catholic Church, are absolutely false.”

“The Holy Father has been firm in his commitment to root it (abuses) out of the church; reach out to those who have been harmed; and hold perpetrators accountable. It is absolutely false and baseless that the Holy Father tried to down play the entire abuse reports,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who has written a “personal letter to the pope, assuring the solidarity of the Episcopal Conference and the Indian people,” said: “We are not in any way condoning the behaviour… or deny they occurred. We are sorry and we admit that the priests have betrayed their trust and have caused long term damage to the victims.”

“However, it must be noted, that these incident occurred decades ago, and in most of these cases, there is much difficulty in verifying facts,” the cardinal added.