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Tamil Nadu priest faces extradition to US over ‘sexual abuse’ allegations

Father Joseph Jeyapaul is accused of abusing two minors at a Minnesota church in 2004.

Written by Gopu Mohan | Chennai | Published: June 29, 2013 3:56:58 am

A Roman Catholic priest from Tamil Nadu may be extradited to the US where he is accused of sexually abusing two minors while serving as an extern priest at a Minnesota church in 2004. If convicted,he may have to spend 30 years in prison with fine.

Based on a warrant issued by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate,Patiala House Courts,Father Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul was arrested from Erode district on March 16,2012 and has been lodged in Tihar Jail.

As his bail pleas were rejected by courts concerned,his sister P Pushpavathy approached the Madras High Court with a habeas corpus petition,claiming there was a delay in his production in the Delhi court and adding that his continued incarceration amounted to illegal detention.

Hearing the plea to quash his arrest,the Bench comprising Justices V Dhanapalan and C T Selvam noted that the Ministry of External Affairs had presented documents such as diplomatic note seeking the extradition sent by the US embassy in New Delhi; certificate of authentication signed by the Indian embassy in Washington; certificate of the US secretary of state and the attorney general; affidavits by the victim,investigator and the prosecutor; and copy of the extradition treaty signed between the two countries.

After receiving the note from the US officials in 2011,the MEA had approached the additional CMM,Patiala House Courts,to inquire the request and decide on its ‘extraditability’ based on the nature of offences. As the arrest was made based on the magistrate’s warrant,it could not be termed detention or illegal detention as charged by Jeyapaul’s sister,said Justice Dhanapalan.

With this,Father Jeyapaul seems to have exhausted his legal options to fight extradition to the US for alleged offences done nearly a decade ago.

Incardinated to the Catholic Diocese of Ootacamund,Jeyapaul was ordained as a priest in May 1982. He was chosen to serve as an extern priest under the Diocese of Crookston,Minnesota,US. Jeyapaul left for Minnesota in August 2004,and first served as a parochial vicar before being appointed as the administrator of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Greenbush,St Joseph Church in Middle River and St Edward in Karlstad.

Though his term was for three years,Jeyapaul left exactly a year later in 2005,apparently to be with his dying mother in Tamil Nadu. However,within a month after he left,the Diocese of Crookston received first complaint against him when a 16-year-old girl raised abuse charges against the priest. A year later,the father of another teenager reported similar complaint to the local priests and the diocese. Both girls said they were considering joining the church when Jeyapaul offered to help with the discernment process. But they alleged that he sexually abused them,first attempting to seduce them with gifts and then threatening with physical and spiritual punishments if they did not oblige.

There were also complaints of misappropriation of a substantial amount of money from the parish,and also that he tried to settle a debt by giving a diocesan vehicle as payment.

While the Church here appears to have tried to shield Jeyapaul from grave damages by accommodating him in a low-profile post at the Diocese of Ootacamund,The Nilgiris district,Victor H Balke,the former Bishop of Crookston,relentlessly pursued the case with his counterparts in Tamil Nadu and also with superiors in Vatican.

According to the provisions contained in the ‘Essential norms for Diocesan policies dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests and deacons’,Balke first ordered a preliminary investigation into the allegations where it was found it probable that a canonical delict was committed.

The findings prompted Balke to recommended penal action against the priest,warning that he presented a risk to minors.

After serving as the Bishop for over 36 years,Victor Balke retired in 2007.

According to the case charged against him before the Roseau County Courthouse,Minnesota,in January 2007,Jeyapaul faces two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree for “wilfully,wrongfully,unlawfully,feloniously and intentionally engaging in sexual penetration”,which carry a maximum penalty of 30 years imprisonment and/or US$40,000 and a mandatory minimum of 144 months imprisonment if convicted.

In September 2011,the Diocese of Crookston agreed to pay US$750,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by one of the victims,Megan Peterson,now 23.

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