Madison Diocese brother charged with felonies for alleged sexual abuse of 17-year-old girl

Wisconsin State Journal [Madison WI]

December 6, 2022

By Chris Rickert

A brother in the Diocese of Madison had sexual contact and exchanged inappropriate videos with a 17-year-old girl he met in a Bible study he led at a DeForest-based parish, a criminal complaint says.

Rajnal Rehmat, 31, was charged Monday with sexual assault of a child by a person who works or volunteers with children and child enticement, both felonies, for the incidents alleged to have happened between Sept. 5 and Oct. 1. A Dane County court commissioner on Monday set Rehmat’s bail at $5,000 and ordered the Pakistan native to relinquish his passport.

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A complaint against Rehmat, who had been working for the diocese since June, details two instances when Rehmat and the girl kissed and engaged in sexual touching in a vehicle — once near St. Olaf parish in DeForest, where he was living on the weekends, and once at Warner Park in Madison. It also details another such instance near Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee County, where he lived during part of the week.

It wasn’t immediately clear Monday whether Rehmat was under investigation in Milwaukee County for the abuse that allegedly happened there, but as of Monday afternoon, the only case against him was filed in Dane County.

The complaint also details an escalating series of video contacts between the two in which the girl would disrobe or partially disrobe at Rehmat’s request and Rehmat would masturbate.

Diocese spokesperson Brent King on Monday said Rehmat “is no longer enrolled in any seminary classes or formation” and “is no longer allowed to reside, work, visit or volunteer at any parish, school, Church facility, or property in the Diocese of Madison.

“Further, his future needs and any residence during criminal prosecution and the legal process are the responsibility of his religious community, the Canons Regular of Jesus the Lord (CJD), of which he is a solemnly-professed brother,” he said. CJD’s American headquarters is in Modesto, California.

A Facebook page that appears to be Rehmat’s describes him as a “former theology student” originally from Lahore, Pakistan, who studied at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and seminaries in Sri Lanka and Karachi, Pakistan.

Rehmat, Diocese of Madison WI

According to the complaint and probable cause statement in the case:

The girl and Rehmat met soon after he began serving the joint St. Olaf-St. Joseph parish. St. Olaf church is in DeForest and St. Joseph is in the town of East Bristol. The girl and her family attended the latter.

The girl initially got Rehmat’s number so that she could text him photos of a camp she’d attended, but their contact continued despite a warning Rehmat said he’d been given by St. Olaf/St. Joseph lead pastor Jared Holzhuter that he not text with minors. She suggested adding a third party to their chats, but that never happened and Rehmat told the girl not to tell Holzhuter or anyone else they were friends.

The girl said there were multiple times when he made clear to her that their relationship was forbidden, including during a visit she made to Milwaukee County when, after kissing her in an elevator at the Basilica of St. Josaphat in the city of Milwaukee, he told her something to the effect of “Oh, I’m a naughty brother. I have my cassock on and am kissing a minor in an elevator.”

Rehmat admitted to being alone with the girl on several occasions, but said he didn’t know and didn’t remember some of the details of the relationship.

Asked by the DeForest police detective investigating the case whether he’d spent time with the victim in the backseat of a car, Rehmat paused about 10 seconds before saying, “Oh, my goodness” and “I think I will remain silent here. Is that OK?”

2½-year contract

Rehmat has been in the Dane County Jail since his arrest Thursday. During his initial hearing Monday, public defender Adam Welch said Rehmat was only five months into a 2½-year contract with the diocese. He argued his client should be released on a signature bond and isn’t a flight risk because he effectively has no other place to go in the United States and has no access to his money in an overseas account.

The county’s public safety assessment also rated him as a low risk to commit new crimes or fail to appear in court and recommended he be released on a signature bond.

Court Commissioner Jason Hanson, though, went along with the District Attorney’s Office recommendation for a $5,000 cash bond, noting the seriousness of the charges.

King said the diocese learned of the allegation against Rehmat on Nov. 27 and made “immediate communication” with Dane County Child Protective Services and the diocese’s victims assistance coordinator. It also placed Rehmat on leave and informed his superiors.

DeForest police first heard of the allegation the next day from CPS, which had received an anonymous tip from a person who’d been told of the alleged abuse by a 17-year-old boy who was friends with the victim, according to the probable cause statement and complaint in the case.

Editor’s note: This story was corrected on Dec. 6 to delete a reference to Rehmat taking classes at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary and to clarify that the elevator where he and the victim kissed was in the Basilica of St. Josaphat.