Priest, Wanted in Sex Scandal, Flees to India

India Abroad (New York)
May 24, 2002

The ongoing sex abuse controversy rocking the Catholic Church got a desi touch when Father Sleeva Raju Policetti fled to India.

Chicago Archbishop Francis George has asked the priest, ordained in Hyderabad, to return to the US for questioning by the police.

Policetti, assistant pastor at the St. Tarcissus Church in North Side, Chicago from 1996, has been removed from his ministry, according to archdiocese officials.

"The cardinal spoke to the bishop at Hyderabad about the return of Policetti," archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer told India Abroad. "The bishop termed the incident as weird and promised to help the Chicago authorities."

Thus far, no charges have been framed against Policetti in relation to the charge of having sex with a minor. However, the police wish to question him before determining their next course of action. "Anyway, his leaving the country has a negative effect," Dwyer said.

Earlier, the cardinal had faxed a letter to the Hyderabad bishop. "I've ask him to cooperate with authorities, because I think the authorities here will ask the Indian police to extradite him," the cardinal said after a Mother's Day mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.

It all began on May 4, when a parishioner complained to St. Tarcissus Church pastor Father Daniel McCarthy that Policetti, 43, had been sexually abusing a teenage girl.

Father McCarthy kept the information confidential and informed the archdiocese which, in turn, intimated the Illinois department of children and family services.

The latter body contacted Cook County's attorney's office on May 6. Policetti disappeared the next day.

Subsequently, the priest's brother, Prasad Rao Policetti informed church officials that his brother had left for India. Prasad Rao worked as assistant pastor at the St. Monica Church on the Northeast Side for two years till 1998 before leaving the ministry, but not the priesthood.

There are, Dwyer said, no allegations against Prasad Rao.

Police questioned Prasad Rao about his brother's disappearance, and later allowed him to go back to India. He was in any case scheduled to return to India next month, but advanced his program after obtaining permission from authorities.

Meanwhile, McCarthy said the allegations against Policetti were credible.

While no details of the relationship between Policetti and the teenager were released, officials termed it an "inappropriate relationship with a minor." There was no prior allegations against Policetti.

There was no information whether the girl was a member of the church or a student at St. Tarcissus School, which has 665 students.

One mystery relates to how Policetti got wind of the pending trouble. Church officials had kept the allegation - and their discussions with authorities - a secret, yet the priest apparently got wind of it, and packed his bags. McCarthy said he saw Policetti last on the morning of the day he left.

McCarthy was having breakfast when Policetti came up, said 'Hi,' and walked away.

Priests from foreign countries are selected on the recommendation of their bishops and after ascertaining their character, Dwyer said.

In Policetti's case, the bishop had given the recommendation.

The policy of recruiting priests from other countries will not change because of this incident, Dwyer indicated.

If Policetti does not return to the US, the police can frame charges based on their investigations, and seek extradition.

"But these things are to be decided by the state authorities and the archdiocese has no role in it," Dwyer said.


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