MUMBAI, India (ChurchMilitant.com) - The president of the Indian Catholic Forum is accusing Mysore's bishop K. A. William of a "total breach of etiquette, confidentiality and morality" for recording a confidential phone call with Cdl. Oswald Gracias.
When Church Militant published "extracts" of the phone call, "it became viral across the world," Allan de Noronha (aka Chhotebhai) wrote in a letter, on Saturday, addressed to Gracias (a key advisor to Pope Francis and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India).
"In the audio, the voice of William is much louder than that of [the] cardinal's, indicating that it was recorded at William's end," Noronha observes, describing how the bishop's "audacious" recording had set the stage for a "Greek tragedy" in the Indian church.
The cardinal repeatedly asks in the audio, "Is the line safe?" and, hence, Gracias "obviously ... wants to talk in confidence," but "that was broken by William by recording it," observes Noronha.
"In the conversation, William refers to a case filed on Aug. 17, 2020, 'two days ago.' Hence it may be safely assumed that the conversation occurred on Aug. 19, 2020," adds Noronha, an author and former president of the All India Catholic Union.
Church Militant has confirmed independently that William uploaded an attachment of a phone call to Cdl. Gracias to his Gmail account on Aug. 22, 2020, at 8:49 pm and saved it as "Call recording Bombay Archbp Cardinal_200819_121233.m4a."
"The Church Militant campaign severely dented your image, forcing you on the back foot," Noronha tells Gracias in his letter, excoriating the cardinal for his "pathetic attempt" at "self-justification" while "skirting the central issue involved" — the paternity test ordered by Cdl. Luis Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
Two years ago, the Vatican ordered William to take a DNA test after the bishop was accused of fathering illegitimate children with multiple mistresses, murdering four priests, rape, kidnapping and embezzlement, Church Militant earlier reported. William has yet to comply with the directive.
Gracias said Church Militant had "mischievously edited" the phone audio after the Detroit-based media apostolate published extracts of the conversation on July 22. Church Militant released the full, unedited recording of the now-infamous phone call later the same day.
In his Saturday letter, Noronha says he obtained a copy of the audio in April 2021, and had sent it to India's apostolic nuncio, Abp. Leopoldo Girelli, and to Cdl. Gracias, warning that "all hell will break loose" if the conversation became public.
"How long can you keep it under wraps?" Noronha asked Girelli and Gracias in 2021, revealing how, while neither Gracias nor William challenged the authenticity of the recording, the cardinal told the lay leader he [Gracias] "could not comment, as the matter was under investigation."
William, in the phone conversation, "admits that it [the DNA test] will bring shame on him and the Church. This is as clear an admission of guilt as one could expect in the given circumstances," the lay leader infers. "Had William been innocent, he would have grabbed the opportunity to clear his name as suggested by the cardinal."
In his letter, Noronha asks why the cardinal — who is expected to remain neutral and act on behalf of the Vatican — repeatedly makes statements to William in the phone call that show him to be backing the scandal-plagued bishop.
As an example, the lay leader cites Gracias' saying to William, "I told Rome that I believe you and [I] will help him." Noronha argues this statement "is very damaging, as the cardinal has prejudged the case, believing in William's innocence, despite all the evidence to the contrary."
Noronha also quotes the cardinal's words regarding Franco Mulakkal, bishop of Jalandhar, accused of raping a nun 13 times. Gracias says, "Confidentially, in Franco's case also, finally I had to intervene with the Holy See. He should have listened to me earlier. Can't save Franco now."
"The cardinal is overenthusiastic to help William, and rushes headlong to save Franco, but leaves the clergy and laity of Mysore helpless. What a travesty of justice," Noronha writes. "He is again admitting that he is an intervenor on behalf of Rome" and "gives the distinct impression that he was trying to save rape-accused Bp. Franco of Jalandhar."
In his video apologia, Gracias gives the impression that, in asking William to take a DNA test, he was simply being a "Good Samaritan, helping somebody by the wayside" and was not authorized to do so by Rome, Noronha points out.
Gracias says in his defense in the video that, under normal circumstances, he "would not have been in the picture at all," and elaborates:
It is the papal nuncio who coordinates with the Vatican on issues such as this. However, as several had written to me, including people I knew, I was of the opinion that I would help the situation by persuading Bp. William to take the test at a trusted, reputed and above-board institution like St. John's Hospital.
Noronha debunks this duplicity by demonstrating how Gracias has repeatedly referred to instructions from Propaganda Fide and Cdl. Tagle in Rome and has also repeatedly stated he is acting on orders from the Vatican.
"When you have a Church leadership which actively seeks to avoid scrutiny and abdicate their duties in the name of Church interest, then the system breeds a pervasive culture of silence and secrecy," R. Joseph Kennedy, India's representative for Ending Clergy Abuse, told Church Militant.
"Christians in India deserve an institution that is open and transparent for all. We cannot allow a culture of cover-up to weaken the faith of Indian Christians," Kennedy stressed.
"The explanation offered by Cdl. Gracias stands as a testament to what happens when people join forces of evil, cover one another's sins and excuse one another's transgressions," the Indian spokesman at the Vatican's 2019 sex abuse summit remarked.
"The cardinal is clearly suffering from spiritual tunnel-vision, and it's extremely dangerous and hurting the Indian Christian community," Kennedy concluded.
Church Militant asked Cdl. Gracias if he would initiate disciplinary action against Bp. William for recording the conversation without permission. The cardinal did not respond to the query as of press time.