India Catholic Church defends Cardinal Gracias over 'failed abuse victims'

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India is home to about 19 million Catholics

The Indian Catholic Church has defended itself over how it handled allegations of sexual abuse reported by the BBC.

The BBC reported two cases where Cardinal Oswald Gracias was claimed to have failed to respond quickly or offer support to the victims.

Cardinal Gracias, who is the Archbishop of Mumbai, is tipped by some as the next possible Pope.

Victims and those who supported them allege that Cardinal Gracias did not take allegations of abuse seriously when they were reported to him.

The Archdiocese of Mumbai sent the BBC a statement saying that, in the 2015 case of the alleged rape of a young boy by a parish priest in Mumbai, the cardinal had met the boy and his family when an appointment had been requested.

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Pope Francis with Cardinal Oswald Gracias (fourth from left)

"The cardinal tried to console the parents. The cardinal was to leave for Rome that same night. After the complainants left, the cardinal at once phoned up [the accused priest] and informed him of the allegations made against him."

The priest denied the allegations, but "the cardinal removed him from office immediately and told him that he was not even allowed to celebrate Mass the next morning", the statement says.

The cardinal then asked a bishop "to keep in touch with the family and start an inquiry", and then left for Rome, it says.

When he reached Rome, the cardinal phoned the bishop, who told him the family had subsequently informed the police themselves.

Later on, the Church offered the family further help, but the family declined, the statement said. However, the cardinal understands their pain and remains ready to provide assistance.

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Why is India's Catholic church silent about sexual abuse?

Cardinal Gracias is one of four men organising a major Vatican conference on child abuse this week.

The issue of sexual abuse within the Church is being called the Vatican's biggest crisis in modern times, and the integrity of the Catholic Church is said to ride on the outcome of this conference.

Over the past year, the Catholic Church has been reeling under multiple allegations of sexual abuse around the world.

But while abuse claims have made headlines in North and South America, Europe and Australia, very little is known about the problems in Asian countries. In countries such as India there is a social stigma about reporting abuse.

India's Catholics say there is a culture of fear and silence in the Catholic Church about sexual abuse by priests. Those who have dared to speak out say it has been an ordeal.

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