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POCSO And Our Bishops

POCSO And Our Bishops

Recently a priest was arrested by the police on the charge of raping a minor. The Hindu even reports that the priest “has confessed to the crime”.

Another report maintains that the parents kept the situation secret, and some activist alerted the police. The victim gave birth to a child some weeks ago. When the police questioned the victim’s father, he said that he himself was the father of his daughter’s child, “to protect priest and church” according to The Indian Express.

If these reports are true, they raise some very disturbing questions: How and why did the parents not alert the police? Were they intimated? Were they bought? How could they keep their unmarried, school-going daughter’s pregnancy a secret? Were the bishop and his team totally in the dark about what that priest is reported to have done? Were the persons responsible for her safe delivery not bound to get her age and marital status checked? Were they not bound to alert the police knowing that she was a minor? If these persons had an obligation, and if they still remained silent, where they also intimidated or bought? Was this school-going girl the only victim of that priest, or has he ruined the innocence of others also? If so, were they or their parents also bought or intimidated? From where did the priest accused of the rape get all the money he invested to keep his crime hidden, and also for the delivery of his child for which alone he paid Rs. 30,000? More  than  one  person  seems  to  be  involved  in  the  rape  of  that  minor. We all must thank God that the priest did not force the mother to get his child aborted, and thus be guilty of rape and murder.

I presume our bishops have carefully studied POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, Act No. 32 of 2012). Two sections are especially relevant for us.

§19: Reporting of offences: (1) Any person  including the child who has apprehension that an offence under this Act is likely to be committed or has knowledge that such offence has been committed, shall provide information to  (a) the special juvenile police unit (b) the local police

§21: (1) Punishment for failure to report or record a case: Any person, who fails to report an offence under sub-section (1) of section 19 or section 20 or who fails to record such offence under sub-section (2) of section 19 shall be punished with imprisonment of either description which may extend to six months or with fine or with both.

§21: (2) Any person, being in-charge of any company or an institution who fails to report the commission of an offence under sub-section (1) of section 19 in respect of a subordinate under his control, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and with fine.

If we really love Jesus and his community, then more important than the reputation of the Church are the values that Jesus cherishes. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt 18.5-6). Yes, priests who abuse innocent people deserve to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Sometimes that will be the only way to stop them from committing further crimes.  In any case, right now the Church does not have much reputation to lose. More than once Pope Francis has pleaded: “Do not make the Church an NGO.” I am afraid the Church in India is very much an NGO: a Non-Godly Organization.

If we do not take up the issue very seriously, then we will have some more very embarrassing episodes. We even find priests who are guilty of rape procuring abortion. Soon we will have instances even of rape, followed by the murder of the victim to hide the crime.

A few years back a priest engaged a killer to eliminate a person who confronted him on his sexual escapades. It seems to me that more and more we, priests and bishops, are less and less concerned with the community of Jesus. If at all we have some concern, it is about our institutions. Career, money, partying, glamour, alcohol and sex are becoming more and more important.  But then the day may not be very far when the laity may not even get scandalized. They will vote against the Church by their feet. They will just walk away. This has already started happening. It is time to wake up.

I have sufficient reasons to say that the above episode is only the tip of the iceberg. I know for certain, instances of a priest sexually abusing minors. Instead of alerting the police as he was supposed to do, the bishop transferred that priest, thus exposing more innocent people to his lust. The bishop who follows this approach is acting in a very irresponsible way and is guilty of abetting sexual abuse of minors. Thus, he also is responsible for a priest’s sexual escapades.

Similarly there are priests who collect a lot of money through questionable means. There are others who deal with religious women and the laity with clerical arrogance and anger. These continue in office for two reasons: the clerical claim that once a priest always a priest; were the bishops to suspend errant priests, there would not be enough left to run the diocese. As it is, the errant priests are ruining the diocese, and much more the Church.

I also believe that the bishops are primarily responsible for the sad situation we are facing. In 1969 and 1988 the bishops were urged to make some radical changes in the formation of their future priests. I was actively involved in both those meetings. The bishops just did not understand the problem and consequently turned down the proposal. They need numbers for two reasons: numbers indicate their “success”; priests provide cheap labour to keep the show going. Most of us priests and bishops are very particular about the rules and rubrics that govern our liturgy.

Very recently the Latin Bishops even authorized a comprehensive Directives for the Celebration of the Liturgy. With due respect, I must say many of those rules and rubrics are concerned about trivialities. The people who made those rules and rubrics are making unnecessary fuss about unnecessary things. On the other hand, we are prepared to ignore rules that will help to prevent crime against minors (POCSO).

We have a horribly distorted sense of priorities. If priests and bishop want that the laity accept Church rules and regulations, they must set a good example by accepting the rules of the state, more so since those rules are concerned with a very serious evil possibility.

In the world outside the CEOs of companies, wanting to be considered credible, are very careful in selecting their staff. If some staff is found to be seriously dishonest or incompetent, the CEO takes the responsibility and dismisses that person. If such failures happen again, he may even submit his resignation to the board of directors.

 I have given retreats to the priests of over fifty dioceses in India. I have also travelled a lot on different jobs. I have met many priests and bishops all over the country. I do not hesitate to say that many of our bishops are neither efficient managers nor effective pastors. If they really love the People of God more than they love themselves then it is time for them to resign. By continuing in office they are selling Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and betraying him with a kiss.

#(Published on 20th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 12)