Abuse Allegations Stun Parish
Priest Accused by Teen Girl Here May Have Fled to India
By Dave Newbart
May 12, 2002
The men, women and children of St. Tarcissus Roman Catholic Church got the official word at the end of Saturday mass.
"The allegations are credible," said the Rev. Daniel McCarthy, pastor of the Northwest Side church. One of their own priests had fled the country after being accused of sexually abusing a teen girl.
The congregation gasped. The latest bombshell in a nationwide priest sex-abuse scandal was exploding right in front of them.
"Right now, I'm sure your heads are spinning," McCarthy said. "My head has been that way for a week."
Earlier in the day, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that the Rev. Sleeva Raju Policetti, 43, had been removed from his position as an associate pastor, a week after the allegations surfaced.
Church officials believe Policetti fled to India, where he was ordained.
"Our minds are filled with concerns for our young people and for our parish," McCarthy said in his stunning letter to parishioners. "St. Tars is a warm, wonderful parish. We cannot forget that."
Policetti's brother, the Rev. Prasad Rao Policetti, also has left his post at St. Monica Catholic Church on the Northwest Side. Archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer said there have been no allegations against Prasad Rao Policetti, but Dwyer did not say whether he was removed or left voluntarily.
Prasad Rao Policetti could not be reached for comment Saturday. Church officials said he has cooperated in the investigation.
Sleeva Raju Policetti's removal comes after someone described only as "an adult" went to McCarthy on May 4 and accused Policetti of abusing a teen girl.
Church officials would not reveal the nature of the allegations, which McCarthy called an "inappropriate relationship with a minor," but said they involve a single victim. There were no previous allegations against Policetti.
Church officials also did not say if the girl was a member of the parish or attended the church's school, which has 665 students. More than 5,000 Catholics attend the church in Gladstone Park.
"I felt the allegations looked valid," McCarthy told the Chicago Sun-Times. "Our archdiocesan officials felt the same way."
On Monday, the archdiocese informed the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which contacted the Cook County state's attorney's office, Dwyer said.
Authorities asked church officials not to tell Policetti of the allegations until they could be investigated, but he apparently learned of the probe anyway, Dwyer said.
McCarthy saw Policetti a few times last weekend, but said nothing of the allegations because "I didn't want to spook him." On Tuesday--Policetti's day off--McCarthy last saw him at breakfast.
"He walked through the kitchen and said, 'Hi,'" McCarthy said. "He kept walking, and I kept on eating."
At some point that day, McCarthy believes, Policetti was able to clear his belongings out of his two-room suite at the rectory and leave without being noticed.
Later that day, McCarthy received a message from Policetti's brother saying Policetti had left the country for India. Asked why Policetti might have fled, McCarthy said: "That seems pretty obvious."
John Gorman of the Cook County state's attorney's office said the case is under investigation.
Policetti was ordained in India. His only American post was St. Tarcissus, which he joined in 1996.
Parishioners described Policetti as a friendly priest who often walked around the neighborhood and attended plays at the school.
"I liked him a lot. He was great with the kids," said Kathy Peraino, a parishioner for 16 years, whose children attend the parish school.
He gave loud and passionate sermons, which parishioners said were sometimes difficult to understand because of his thick accent.
"He would make sure you would listen," said Chris Lio, a parish member whose daughter attends the school. "If you were sleeping, you would wake up."
The archdiocese has since informed Policetti's archbishop in India of the allegations and asked that Policetti be instructed to return if he shows up there.
Policetti's removal comes a day before Cardinal Francis George planned to address the national sexual abuse scandals at a special Mother's Day mass at Holy Name Cathedral. George sent a letter to be delivered by Catholic priests citywide explaining what the church is doing about the scandal.
"It's going to be a painful weekend," McCarthy said. "We probably need to shed a few tears and hopefully move on."
At Saturday's mass, McCarthy drew spontaneous applause from parishioners when he promised that the parish would survive the shattering charges against a priest many liked and trusted.
"We will rise from the devastation we now feel to create an even better parish for all of us. God is stronger than any evil," McCarthy said.
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