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  Diocese Convinced of Teen Abuse

By Ziva Branstetter
Tulsa World [Oklahoma]
August 14, 2002

A meeting with a 16-year-old Pryor girl leads church officials to say a priest's actions were "sexual assault." Officials with the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa have met with a Pryor girl and say they now believe she was sexually assaulted by a priest who has since been excommunicated.

The Rev. Michael Knipe, a spokesman for the diocese, said he and other diocese representatives met with the 16-year-old girl recently to discuss her claims that she was abused by a former priest at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Pryor.

"I would call it a sexual assault," Knipe said of the girl's allegations. "What I understood in visiting with her was a believable pattern of escalating events that is consistent with sexual abuse. I found her story very believable and credible."

Knipe said he contacted Pryor police, who are investigating the case, and offered to provide information. He said a detective plans to interview him about the case.

The girl claims that in 1999, the Rev. John Jangam molested her on several occasions when she was 13. Her mother said that the family reported the matter to another priest, who then contacted the diocese.

The diocese did not report the allegations to police in 1999 and returned Jangam, a foreign priest visiting on a visa, to India. Parishioners were told that Jangam had to leave because his mother was ill and some of them contributed money to pay for his return trip.

Bishop Edward Slattery said Jangam was returned to India because he was excommunicated after revealing what the girl told him during confession.

Diocese officials say they were told initially only that Jangam had tried to hug and kiss the girl. In letters to the girl's family, diocese officials offered to pay for counseling but said the behavior did not constitute sexual molestation.

During a brief meeting at the church last week, parishioners angrily confronted Slattery about how the diocese handled the matter. Slattery said he could not answer questions about the case and quickly left the church, promising another meeting would be held soon.

Knipe said he will represent the diocese in a meeting at St. Mark's Tuesday evening.

Knipe also plans to meet with parishioners in McAlester and other parishes where the Rev. Kenneth Lewis was assigned.

Lewis resigned from St. John's Catholic Church in McAlester last month following a renewed investigation into claims that he improperly touched young boys. The allegations involve incidents that occurred in 1993 and 1994 when Lewis was associate pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Tulsa.

Knipe, who is pastor at Church of the Resurrection in Tulsa, is a judicial vicar and represents the bishop in the diocesan tribunal. He conducted the diocese's renewed investigation into Lewis earlier this year.

The allegations involving Lewis were not reported to police in 1994 or after the renewed investigation. Slattery said a diocese attorney advised him the allegations did not constitute a crime.

Neither Lewis nor Jangam has been charged with a crime. Both have denied the allegations.

Knipe said the meetings in Pryor, McAlester and other parishes will be "an opportunity to listen, an opportunity to address and an opportunity to visit with God's people."

"If they have questions and concerns, I will do my very best to tell the truth in a frank and objective way . . . and assure them that steps will be taken to ensure that this will never happen again."

Tulsa police continue to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by two priests, whom they decline to name. Sgt. Gary Stansill said police expect to turn their investigation over to District Attorney Tim Harris later this week or next week.

At least eight young men allege one priest made a variety of unwanted advances toward them in the mid-1990s. Several of them allege sexual advances. The second case involves a priest accused of sexually abusing two minors in the late 1970s.

The diocese is planning a day of prayer for abuse victims, similar to an event held by the Oklahoma City Archdiocese on Wednesday.

The Oklahoma City event is in response to a call for spiritual action at the June meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Archbishops. Catholics in the Oklahoma City Archdiocese were asked to abstain from eating or drinking something they normally consume and to perform an act of charity or kindness in observance of the day.

Knipe said a similar event is being planned for the Tulsa diocese and details would be announced by Slattery.

 
 

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