MUMBAI, India (ChurchMilitant.com) - A distinguished judge has served a legal notice on Cdl. Oswald Gracias, one of Pope Francis' closest consultors, for his defamatory remarks against Church Militant/St. Michael's Media.
Gracias, archbishop of Bombay and a member of the "C9" (Francis' trusted group of cardinal advisors), released a video statement claiming that his leaked phone call to the scandal-plagued bishop of Mysore, K. A. William, had been "mischievously edited."
Bishop William is being investigated by the Vatican over accusations of orchestrating the murder of four of his diocesan priests and of rape, kidnapping, embezzling diocesan and trust funds and fathering illegitimate children with multiple mistresses.
"When the cardinal goes on record to use the word 'mischievously edited' — he is inviting a libel action for damages which could not be less than $100 million," wrote Justice Michael F. Saldanha, a judge formerly serving on the Bombay and Karnataka high courts.
This is because the cardinal "represents the Church and the Church can easily afford to pay it, apart from a prosecution," Saldanha explained. Speaking to Church Militant, the judge said that "the word 'defamation' would also be appropriate" to describe Gracias' action.
Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code defines defamation as "words either spoken or intended to be read" or "signs or ... visible representations" that intend to harm the reputation of a person.
According to sections 499–501, defamation is punishable "with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both."
"The cardinal would do well to withdraw and retract the statement alleging 'mischievously edited' — the clear innuendo in law signifies that the video has been distorted, which is false," the judge observed.
"As a person who knows the law and the facts, I need to caution the Church that this action has been invited and that it would be defenseless in any part of the world," noted Saldanha, who was rated among the world's top 10 judges by the International Jurists Association.
"The cardinal's video has been circulated nationally and globally, and the law prescribes that the cause of action arises from any part of the world where that video has been circulated," the judge added.
Gracias was making this claim "for a mala fide purpose when these global channels of repute have no animus," Saldanha warned. "Worst of all is [the charge] that the channels are guilty of fabrication, which is utterly ridiculous. These are grave charges and will invite ruthless penal action."
Speaking to Church Militant, Marc J. Randazza, an acclaimed legal expert on free speech and libel law, explained how an American court would respond to a libel lawsuit against Cdl. Gracias:
Indian law is a bit different from American law in a key manner — India does not recognize New York Times v. Sullivan. Therefore, if there is a false statement of fact that damages your reputation, that is actionable under Indian law. If it were in the USA, there would be a defense argument that the statement was not made knowingly or recklessly with respect to falsity.
"To sustain a claim of defamation or libel, the First Amendment requires that the plaintiff show that the defendant knew that a statement was false or was reckless in deciding to publish the information without investigating whether it was accurate," judges in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan ruled.
"Of course, Cdl. Gracias knows full well whether the recordings are edited or not. Therefore, such a defense would be questionable, even in a speech-protective U.S. court," Randazza said. "In libel cases, like most of life, 'the truth will set you free.'"
In November 2021, Randazza spearheaded the courtroom battle over Church Militant's "Bishops: Enough Is Enough" event — successfully rebuffing Baltimore city officials' efforts to cancel the rally. A federal appeals court ruled unanimously in favor of Church Militant.
Gracias issued his video statement two weeks after Church Militant published a leaked recording of a conversation between the cardinal and the bishop of Mysore wherein Gracias urged William to take a DNA paternity test so he could emerge "a hero" and "martyr."
"I was thinking [we] will go to St. John's College so we can control the media, control the doctors, control the publicity given to the whole thing. And it's a credible organization, no? So, so they don't get it out," Gracias tells William in the leaked phone conversation.
In the video, the cardinal deliberately avoided naming Church Militant. But Gracias could have been referring to no other media outlet — since it was Church Militant alone that received the 15-minute leaked phone call, edited it for length and then published on July 22.
The cardinal admitted he "did have a conversation with Bp. William in August 2020," and "during that conversation, [he] urged Bp. William that it would be advisable for him to do a paternity test."
In his legal notice, Saldanha also noted that the cardinal's statement was debunked by his own "admission that the original recording is with him and that copies of it are available to those who ask for it."
"Had the channels in question [Church Militant] been from this country, they would have been bribed, intimidated and made to shut up," Saldanha laments. "That is impossible in the present context where half a dozen channels are projecting this scandal, starting from Rome."
Church Militant published the entire unedited version of the phone call the same day the cardinal released his defamatory video statement against the media apostolate.