Indian bishops draft child abuse norms

Arun Ram | TNN Chennai: With the clergy facing horrible child sex abuse charges in several countries, Catholic bishops of India have drafted guidelines for clergymen across the world. From spelling out a general behavioural code for bishops and other priests to defrocking as the ultimate punishment for such crimes, the guidelines focus on “wholesome safety of children in and outside our institutions’’. The draft is a result of four days of deliberations by two apex bodies—the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) and the Conference of Catholic Bishops in India (CCBI)—that ended in Bangalore on Wednesday. It will be sent to the Vatican for the Pope’s approval before being finalised by the end of June. Several cases of alleged child sexual abuse against Indian Catholic priests abroad had come to light in the recent past, forcing the CBCI to act. With similar cases being reported from across the world, Pope Benedict XVI had written letters to the clergy in several countries. “While the general consensus at the conference was to report any suspected case of child sex abuse to the police, measures like defrocking and expulsion will be considered only if the accused is convicted by a court,’’ CBCI spokesperson Babu Joseph Karakombil told TOI. So far, priests charged with child sex abuse abroad have been transferred to dioceses in India, raising concern that they could repeat crimes while in service that puts them in close proximity to children. Defrock guilty priests: Fr Gracias Chennai: Office-bearers of CBCI, including its president and Mumbai archbishop Fr Oswald Cardinal Gracias, are in favour of defrocking priests who are found guilty. “I am in favour of such stringent action against the guilty. We will follow the Indian law and the canon law,’’ Fr Gracias told TOI before leaving for Rome ahead of the Bangalore conference. “The Bangalore conference discussed in detail ways and means to ensure the safety of children in our institutions. The draft guidelines will not be made public till they are given a final form. The draft will be sent to the Vatican, as also to all bishops and Catholic institutions in the country for perusal and suggestions,’’ Karakombil said. While cases of child sex abuse against priests have been reported from other countries, child right activists feel non-reporting in India is a matter of grave concern. The CBCI guidelines, they hope, will bring in more transparency and accountability. Disgraced Priests In The Dock Roman Catholic priest Fr Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, facing charges of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota, serves in the diocese of Udhagamandalam Fr Francis X Nelson, a visiting priest at Brooklyn church, was sentenced to four months jail in 2003 for groping a minor girl. He works in the bishop’s office at his home diocese of Kottar in Kanyakumari Fr Vijay Bhaskar Godugunuru, charged with assaulting a 15-year-old girl in Florida, was transferred to Italy, now in India Fr John Jangam was accused of kissing and fondling a 13-yr-old girl in Oklahoma in 1999. Works among children in Vijayawada Simon Palanthingal, priest from Chennai, serving a 16-yr sentence in Wisconsin for sexually assaulting 9-yr-old boy