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Defrock whip to curb abuse

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By CITHARA PAUL
  • Published 25.04.10
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New Delhi, April 24: Church authorities in India are coming out with a radical policy on sexual abuse, including “defrocking” priests found guilty, the tough measures coming in the wake of a series of scandals that have buffeted the wider Catholic Church.

The move comes nearly a week after Pope Benedict, in his first gesture since a new wave of sexual abuse scandals swept over Roman Catholicism amid allegations of cover-ups, promised that the Church would do “all in its power” to bring the guilty to justice.

An Indian priest, too, was charged with sexually abusing a minor in America.

The Indian Church’s new policy underlines the need for action and says the local diocese should investigate every allegation of sexual abuse by a priest. If the accused is found guilty, bishops will have the power to “defrock” the priest.

More important, the policy says bishops must follow civil law in reporting sex abuse crimes to local authorities like police. “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed,” says the policy, to be approved by a standing committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) tomorrow at a meeting in Bangalore.

One allegation against the wider Catholic Church has been that it has sat tight on cases. It has been claimed that Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, apparently did not respond to complaints against a priest, Reverend Lawrence Murphy, who was accused of molesting up to 200 deaf children in the 1970s.

The policy, being fine-tuned by the CBCI, the highest ecclesiastical body for Catholics in India, says the accused must be kept under suspension during the period of investigation. It also asks local dioceses to report every case of abuse and the action taken to the CBCI and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees Catholic doctrine.

The new measures say pastoral care must be offered to the alleged victim and the victim’s family. As for the local parish, it has to see to it that the victim or any member of his or her family is not cornered while the probe is on.

The policy also speaks about ways to prevent child abuse. Dioceses and religious institutes should share information when an offender moves to another ministry, the policy says, while Church leaders should screen employees and volunteers who work with children and young people.