New Delhi, April 12: The Catholic Church in India has decided to bring in a policy to tackle sexual abuse within the Church amid a volley of scandals that have seen a senior priest embroiled in a criminal case abroad.
The move also comes at a time the Pope has come under attack for not taking action against a priest accused of molesting over 200 deaf boys, leading many to wonder if clergy celibacy deserved a second look.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) has convened a special meeting of its standing committee on April 25 in Bangalore to discuss the issue of sexual abuse.
The decision to frame guidelines comes in the wake of several sex abuse cases that have troubled the Church.
The most recent case that has rattled the Indian Catholic Church was the one involving Father Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, charged with child abuse by US authorities.
The Indian Church was accused of sheltering Jeyapaul, who is now working in the Ootacamund diocese in Tamil Nadu.
Father Thomas said the April 25 meeting would discuss all issues related to sexual abuse and special attention would be given to cases involving children.
Each and every case of sexual abuse will be discussed and the CBCI will be formulating an action plan for all dioceses in India, Thomas said.
The meeting is also expected to discuss matters related to celibacy. Many within the Church feel sexual frustration is the main reason behind most cases of sexual abuse. A former nun, who had left to pursue a more honest life after over 20 years in her order, had claimed that insistence on celibacy was the root cause of many evils that plagued the Church.
A source within the CBCI said the policy would lay down procedures for thorough investigations and stricter action against those found guilty of sex abuse.
The Church cannot afford not to take these cases seriously. They may be stray cases but they are doing great harm to the image of the Church, the source said.
What has prompted the church to convene an emergency meeting of sorts, according to Thomas, is that certain elements were trying to malign the Church despite the fact that those were stray cases.
But sex abuse scandals have rocked the Vatican too, with the Pope coming under attack for sitting tight on the cases. One of the cases involved a priest, Reverend Lawrence Murphy, who was accused of molesting up to 200 deaf children in the 1970s. It was claimed that Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, apparently did not respond to the complaints against Murphy.