No Bail Allowed for Priest Accused of Abuse
State Prosecutors Want to Ensure Extradition
By Tom Heinen firstname.lastname@example.org
Journal Sentinel Online
June 27, 2004
Concerned about an investigation in Louisiana and rumors that Father Simon Palathingal's relatives in India might be wealthy enough to post his $1.25 million bail before he could be extradited to Wisconsin, prosecutors succeeded last week in getting his bail revoked in New Jersey.
News of that effort came as the alleged victim's Brookfield attorney contended that his client would not have been introduced to Palathingal if Milwaukee's auxiliary bishop had taken stronger action in response to a parishioner's repeated warnings.
Palathingal, 62, has been in jail awaiting a hearing since police arrested him outside his church rectory in South Amboy, N.J., on June 3. He is charged in a four-count, Milwaukee County criminal complaint with first-degree sexual assault of a 9-year-old boy in Milwaukee between the summer of 1990 and mid-1991.
He is a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco, a religious order that the Dallas Morning News identified last week as having moved priests accused of sexual abuse of minors from country to country to escape prosecution. The newspaper, which spent more than a year investigating the Salesians and other religious orders for such conduct, launched a series last Sunday by focusing on the order.
The Lake Charles, La., police department is now investigating a complaint that Palathingal engaged in "inappropriate behavior with a juvenile" there, said Sgt. Mark Kraus, a department spokesman.
The priest served at a parish in Lake Charles from March 2000 to June 2001 but made a recent personal visit to the area without the knowledge of diocesan officials, according to the Diocese of Lake Charles.
At the time of his arrest, he was undergoing a lengthy process to become accepted as a diocesan priest in Metuchen, N.J., said Joanne Ward, a spokeswoman for that diocese.
Meanwhile, attorney Jim Smith alleged that his client, Nick Janovsky, now 23, was put at risk by Milwaukee Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba.
Palathingal is charged with sexually assaulting Janovsky, who now lives near Tampa, Fla.
Palathingal was doing graduate work at Marquette University and living with Father Dennis Pecore, a Salvatorian order priest, in a residence near Mother of Good Counsel Church on Milwaukee's near northwest side when the alleged assaults occurred. At the time, Pecore was on parole after having been convicted in 1987 of second-degree sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy.
As a condition of parole, Pecore was not to have unsupervised contact with youths. It is unclear whether the courts made an exception for Janovsky, who was Pecore's nephew.
Pecore had come to Mother of Good Counsel before his conviction as part of a new team of Salvatorians who were running the parish and overseeing its school. Robert Hoelzl, now of New Berlin, was among parishioners and teachers who raised concerns about the new team's management decisions and lifestyle.
After Pecore's conviction, Hoelzl continued to try to get a different priest, the then-pastor, removed. As part of that effort, Hoelzl said, he called Sklba in 1989 to report that a parishioner had seen one or more boys coming and going at Pecore's residence.
In Hoelzl's correspondence with Sklba, copies of which were provided to the Journal Sentinel by Smith, Sklba writes on Dec. 21, 1989, that he spoke with the Salvatorian provincial.
"I received a letter from (the provincial) indicating that this matter has been directly discussed with Father Pecore himself who categorically affirmed his compliance with all terms of his parole. The matter will be discussed with the appropriate parole officer. . . . Thank you for your communication. If you have additional information, I suggest that you deal with civil authorities directly."
Hoelzl said he did not contact authorities, recalling that he was simply fed up with church resistance, which included three teachers' contracts not being renewed.
What was not known was that Pecore was sexually abusing Janovsky. And, Janovsky said, it was Pecore who introduced him to Palathingal during that time.
"It appears clear from the exchange between Mr. Hoelzl and Bishop Sklba that had the bishop heeded Mr. Hoelzl's continued warnings rather than taking the word of a once-convicted pedophile that the abuse of Nick Janovsky may well not have occurred at all, but certainly would have been mitigated," Smith said.
Sklba was not available for comment Friday, said archdiocesan spokeswoman Kathleen Hohl.
"Bishop Sklba appropriately entrusted the resolution of the matter to the Salvatorian provincial and also encouraged the individual who brought forth the complaints to contact civil authorities directly to ensure that his situation be investigated properly," Hohl said.
Not enough control
Victims advocates have long complained that bishops have not exerted enough control over religious-order priests, who are not under their direct authority but need a bishop's permission to do ministry in a diocese.
Pecore was convicted in 1994 of abusing Janovsky and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He is now on parole and living on the east side under electronic monitoring.
The alleged abuse by Palathingal was reported to the Milwaukee County district attorney's office in the early 1990s, but Palathingal had briefly returned to India and charges were not filed. Janovsky contacted authorities here this year seeking prosecution.
Assistant District Attorney Gale Shelton cited several factors for charges not being filed earlier, including Janovsky being "vilified" by some family members during Pecore's long trial, and Palathingal being in India.
"It was a balanced judgment that we made based on what shape the victim was in at that time, the ordeal that he had been through, and trying to make a decision that was in his best interest," Shelton said.
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