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  Priest to Face Abuse Charges in Wisconsin

By Jim O'Neill
Star-Ledger
July 7, 2004

A South Amboy priest told a judge in Middlesex County yesterday he will voluntarily return to Wisconsin to face charges of sexually assaulting a child in Milwaukee 14 years ago.

The Rev. Simon Palathingal, appearing at the Middlesex County Courthouse in New Brunswick, announced his decision as Superior Court Judge Jane Cantor set bail at $500,000 for the priest, who is expected to return to Milwaukee within 10 days to face the sex assault charges.

Palathingal, 62, stood before the judge in shackles and jail-issue green T-shirt and trousers, and spoke barely above a whisper, answering affirmatively when asked if he understood he was waiving his right to an extradition hearing.

The judge told Palathingal authorities could not simply haul him off to Wisconsin, and would first have to prove he is the man being charged and was in the state at the time the crime occurred.

Outside court, his attorney in New Jersey, Sedesh Doobay of South Plainfield, said the priest denies wrongdoing and said the charges were brought by an individual who has filed a lawsuit and is seeking monetary damages.

When the priest was arrested and charged, "he was in a bit of a shock, not understanding what was going on," Doobay said, adding Palathingal "is certainly having a tough time being incarcerated."

The man making the accusations, Nick Janovsky, now 23, said he is not suing. His lawyer, James Smith, who is advising him on the criminal proceedings, said a Wisconsin court decision in 1995 banned sex assault lawsuits against the church.

Janovsky said he was pleased the priest will return. "It's about time. Justice is one step closer to being served," he said.

Palathingal was being held without bail in New Jersey after the judge revoked the $1.25 million bail that was set after he was arrested June 3 outside the parish rectory at St. Mary's Church in South Amboy.

Cantor held the priest without bail after authorities said he came from a wealthy family that could post the high amount. Wisconsin authorities also said he was under investigation in Louisiana for inappropriate conduct involving a juvenile. Church officials said there was no physical contact.

Doobay asked the court to reinstate bail, asserting the priest was unfairly characterized in court records as a "fugitive." The priest routinely travels to India as part of his job as a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco, an international Roman Catholic order, the lawyer said, adding Palathingal never intended to flee.

"He cannot be treated as a fugitive if he did not know there were charges against him," Doobay told the judge.

Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Nicole Rao asked the judge to keep bail at $1.25 million, contending he was a flight risk because he has no roots in the United States. The judge said the amount seemed "a bit high," and trimmed it to $500,000. The judge ordered Palathingal to surrender his passport as a condition of posting bail.

Doobay said the priest's friends and family were considering whether to post the amount in New Jersey, or await for him to be returned to Wisconsin and post bail there.

In Milwaukee, he is charged with four counts of sexually assaulting a 9-year-old boy between the summer of 1990 and June 1991. Authorities declined to press charges in 1994 when the alleged victim came forward. The alleged victim contacted authorities in Wisconsin this year seeking prosecution.

Since Palathingal's arrest, authorities revealed he also was under investigation in Lake Charles, La., where he served at a parish from March 2000 to June 2001. Sgt. Mark Kraus, a spokesman for the Lake Charles police, said the investigation has been completed and forwarded to the district attorney's office in Calcasieu Parish (county). No decision was made yesterday on whether charges will be filed, the police spokesman said.

Church members in South Amboy were stunned by the arrest. Officials from the Diocese of Metuchen said there had been no allegations of abuse while Palathingal served in New Jersey.

He served briefly at St. Bernadette's in Parlin before going to South Amboy, and was being groomed by the diocese to become a diocesan priest at St. Andrew's in Woodbridge. Church officials said his candidacy for acceptance as a diocesan priest has been terminated.

 
 

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