KOCHI: Now, Catholic bishops and priests can be defrocked if proved guilty of sexual abuse and assault of minors, as per the procedural norms laid by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI). The norms have been mentioned in the document published by the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) which was accessed by Express on Tuesday. The KCBC document has been drafted as the CBCI guidelines were reportedly formulated on October 2015.
As per the document, “If the Bishop/ Major Superior after studying the results of the investigation by the sexual offenses committee concludes the alleged offender is guilty and constitutes a risk for minors, the offender is to be immediately relieved of all offices he had been holding and it should be examined whether he needs to be advised to request to be reduced to the lay state.” The document further adds a procedure may be initiated for his dismissal from the clerical state and penal remedies may also be imposed.
The purpose of the guidelines issued by KCBC includes providing a secure and safe environment for ‘minors’ and ‘vulnerable’ adults in the faith communities within the KCBC’s dioceses and church provinces and to protect them from any form of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
Major guidelines to Church personnel include they shall refrain from viewing and exhibiting any sexually explicit or morally inappropriate material in the presence of minors and vulnerable adults. Church personnel shall not indulge in or encourage sexually offensive humour and conversation in the presence of minors and vulnerable adults.
The KCBC guidelines also state adults should ensure there is no appropriate physical contact with minors. When working with minors or vulnerable adults, Church personnel should ensure no minor shall reside in any church rectory or other living quarters of priests, unless the minor is accompanied by a parent or an adult entrusted by the parent.It also adds overnight trips alone with a minor should be avoided and photographs of the minors should not be taken when they are unclothed or are dressing.
Ensuring care and safety
Fr Varghese Vallikkat, the official spokesperson of KCBC, said it is for ensuring special care and protection for minors and vulnerable adults in all the institutions of the Catholic Church in the state. “The discussions for setting the guidelines has been there for two years. The cultural change in the time requires formation of such guidelines, we have to be equipped to address issues relating to abuses as well. Lots of research from across the country helped us in formulating the guidelines,” said Fr Vallikkat.
He also added last year the guidelines were approved and since then they are being implemented. “When we look into the realities around us, implementing policies of relevance is required,” he said. However, according to the sources, the guidelines come in the wake of serious allegations of sexual abuse in the Church, including rape and impregnation of minors and allegation of rape against former Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal.