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  Church Scandal: Girl Alleges Molestation

By Ziva Branstetter
Tulsa World [Oklahoma]
July 30, 2002

The priest was returned to India and police were not informed. PRYOR -- A 16-year-old Pryor girl says she was molested three years ago by her Catholic priest, who Tulsa Diocese officials hastily returned to India without reporting the case to authorities.

The girl and her mother also maintain that church officials urged the family not to discuss the case.

In a related development, Bishop Edward Slattery will issue a call Tuesday for anyone who has been molested by a priest or employee of the Tulsa Diocese to report the matter to the church. Slattery's action follows allegations of inappropriate behavior involving another priest and young boys in Tulsa.

"He is saying that if anyone has been in any way molested by a priest or any employee of the diocese . . . for anybody that feels they have been abused in any way, they can let us know, and we will carry it forth according to policy," said the Rev. Msgr. Dennis Dorney, vicar general of the diocese. Slattery, who has been in Canada for the appearance of Pope John Paul II, scheduled a news conference to make the announcement.

Tulsa Police Sgt. Liz Woollen said she believes that the earlier allegations of improper conduct by the Tulsa priest, the Rev. Ken Lewis, should have been reported to police. Woollen said that if a victim or a "mandatory reporting party" comes forward to discuss the case, Tulsa police will investigate to determine whether charges of abuse or failure to report abuse could be filed.

Lewis resigned from his church in McAlester last month and could not be reached for comment.

Henry Harder, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tulsa, confirmed that the Pryor priest, the Rev. John Jangam, was sent back to India after the girl made her allegations in 1999. He said the church has offered to pay for counseling for the girl.

"It is our understanding he is no longer a priest," Harder said of Jangam.

When asked whether he believed the allegations, Harder said: "I think there was an incident where a priest acted improperly." He said the case was never reported to authorities because "her parents did not want it reported."

But her mother, Linda La Porte, told the Tulsa World that was not true. She said church officials urged the family not to discuss the case.

"We trusted the church, and they let us down," she said.

Dorney, however, said the priest was "excommunicated" and returned to India because he revealed what the girl had said to him during confession. Dorney said the girl told church officials that Jangam had tried to hug and kiss her, but nothing more, so they did not report the matter to police.

Shortly after the family moved to Pryor in 1999, the girl began attending St. Mark's Catholic Church. She said she attended a church picnic in May 1999 and that she accepted Jangam's offer of a ride home afterward.

Several days later, the girl, who was 13 at the time, said Jangam called her at home and asked her to come see him at his house. She said the priest did not do anything improper during that visit.

During a second visit at his house a short time later, the girl said Jangam asked her to watch television in his bedroom. She said Jangam "put his hand on my leg and would invite me to go over to his bed and lie down." She said the priest fondled her breasts under her clothing.

La Porte said her daughter also told her later that during that encounter, Jangam took a shower and came out of the bathroom wearing a towel.

"I think she has blocked that part out," La Porte said.

The girl said Jangam kissed or touched her on two other occasions during the weeks that followed. She said one incident occurred in a confessional, where he kissed her on the mouth, and another in the church library.

"It was after Mass, and there's a water fountain in the library, and I was getting a drink. He came up behind me and put his hands on my waist and began to hug me and touch me," she said, indicating that Jangam touched her genitals.

The girl said the episodes occurred during a six-week period.

The girl eventually told a relative about the priest's actions. The relative in turn told her mother.

"I was confused," the girl said. "I knew that no one would believe me because he was a priest and everyone liked him."

La Porte said her husband, Neal La Porte, confronted Jangam about the girl's allegations but that the priest denied them. She said Neal La Porte reported the matter to a family friend, a retired priest from Tahlequah, who informed Slattery's office.

The girl said she and her family met with officials at the Tulsa Diocese and told them about what had happened. She said that shortly after that, a diocese official called and said: "He's on his way to India, and don't say anything until he's gone."

Jangam left the church in July 1999, claiming that his mother had died in India, La Porte said. She said she did not report the case to police because she believed there was nothing she could do once Jangam was out of the country.

The girl said a priest who replaced Jangam spent several months counseling with her about the matter.

"He said not to say anything because it would make the church look bad," she said.

Recently, with allegations of abuse by Catholic priests in the news, the girl has been having emotional and physical problems, including sleeplessness and stomach pains. The girl and her mother met with Dorney and former Tulsa Diocese Chancellor Edward Maillet on July 2 to discuss the issue.

A letter obtained by the World from Maillet to La Porte states: "We can only hope and pray that John Jangam is not engaging in misconduct now or that he will never do so in the future. As we told you, we did write to his former bishop and urged him to try to prevent the man from working with children or youth, if indeed he knows where he now lives in that vast country. As you know, it is very unlikely that he is now serving as a priest or that he will ever do so in the future."

The letter also addresses concerns that the girl raised about Jangam being transferred from a previous position at the University of Tulsa to St. Mark's Parish.

"Please be assured that there was no incident of misconduct behind that transfer. Actually it occurred because it became evident that he was poorly suited for work with American college students. . . . That assignment was not a good fit for him."

The girl said that during the meeting last month, she repeatedly tried to tell Dorney and Maillet details of the encounters with Jangam. She said they didn't want to hear specifics of her story.

"I told them that, 'You should know the specifics of what he did for the record.' I asked them why they never did an investigation, and they said because he wasn't from here and that if he tried to get reinstated, Rome would do an investigation."

The girl said she believes that there might be other victims because Jangam was active with youth groups at the church.

"I still attend Mass four times a week, and I'm still a faithful Catholic, but I'm very, very disappointed with how the church has handled it," the girl said.

Harder said the girl's allegation that she was discouraged from discussing the case "is a patent falsehood."

"The advice she may have been given is that she should do what she thinks is right but consider the ramifications to herself."

Dorney said the church files do not indicate that the girl had claimed that Jangam molested her.

 
 

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