A Catholic priest charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota is working in his home diocese in India and has no plans to return to the US to face the courts,he and his bishop said today.
Church documents obtained by the AP show the Vatican was alerted to the accusations against the Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul more than three years ago,but did not respond.
The priest has received a minor punishment and is currently working in his bishops office processing teacher appointments for church schools in the diocese of Ootacamund.
Jeyapaul is wanted on two counts of criminal sexual conduct stemming from accusations he assaulted a young female parishioner in the fall of 2004 at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenbush,Minnesota,where he was working. Each charge carries a sentence of up to 30 years.
Lisa Hanson,the prosecutor in northern Minnesotas Roseau County,said her office is in the process of trying to extradite Jeyapaul. She wouldnt provide specifics on the timing or approach but said her office has been working with the US Justice Department.
Hes charged with serious felonies here in this country, Hanson said. We want justice for the victim here and we want to do whatever we can to protect potential future victims everywhere.
From Ootacamund,the Most Rev. Arulappan Amalraj,Bishop of Ootacamund,said: We cannot simply throw out the priest,so he is just staying in the bishops house,and he is helping me with the appointment of teachers, said the bishop of Ootacamund. He says he is innocent,and these are only allegations… I dont know what else to do.
Amalraj emphasized that Jeyapaul was engaged in only paperwork,nothing to do with the children or anything.
(ENS,Chennai adds: Father John Louis Raj,secretary to the Bishop and his spokesperson said,As per our procedure,we should get the order from the Apostolic Nunciature the Vatican Embassy in New Delhi which conveys the Vaticans directions for any action to be taken. Especially so in this case,because the alleged incident happened outside the jurisdiction of the Ootacamund diocese. So far,regarding the the alleged incident charged against Rev Jeyapaul,we have not received any communication from the Nuncio.)
The main group of clerical abuse victims in the US,Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests,has been campaigning recently to draw attention to what it considers the Vaticans complicity in cases of abusive priests being moved around dioceses to avoid criminal prosecution.
The Vatican has denounced such accusations and has blamed the media for what it calls a smear campaign against the pope and his advisers.
According to the criminal complaint,the teenage girl accused Jeyapaul of threatening to kill her family if she did not come into the rectory,where he then forced her to perform oral sex on him and groped her.
In a telephone call with the AP,Jeyapaul denied the charges.
It is a false accusation against me, he said. I do not know that girl at all.
He said he had no intention of facing the charges,and Amalraj said the church had never discussed asking him to return to the US to appear in court.
No steps were taken. Nobody talked about that. Nobody asked about that, Amalraj said.
At the time the accusations against Jeyapaul first surfaced in 2005,the priest had returned home to visit his ailing mother and officials in Minnesotas Crookston diocese told him he should stay in India,Jeyapaul said.
My mother told me to remain here,and the (Crookston) bishop also told me not to come back,because these allegations have come against you, he said.
On December 21,2006,Monsignor Victor Balke,the-then bishop of the Crookston diocese,wrote about the accusations against Jeyapaul to both Cardinal William Levada,prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,and the Most Rev. Pietro Sambi,Apostolic Nuncio,the Vaticans ambassador,to the United States. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the Vatican office that handles all abuse cases.
I hope that for the good of the Church you are able to reach a speedy resolution to this case, he wrote to Levada,according to a letter obtained by AP.
A week later,Rev. Sambi wrote to Bishop Balke: I assure you that this material has already been forwarded to the Holy See.
Its not clear what actions,if any,the Vatican took. Amalraj said the Vatican was informed of his disciplinary actions against Jeyapaul,but had no input.
Amalraj said he sent Jeyapaul to a monastery for a year of prayer and asked the local parishes where the priest had worked previously if there were any prior cases of possible abuse. None came to light,he said.
Amalraj then assigned Jeyapaul to the bishops house.