Priest Plans to Admit Guilt in Sexual Assault of Boy

By Rick Malwitz
Home News Tribune [Wisconsin]
August 11, 2004

The Rev. Simon Palathingal, the religious order priest who kept part of his past hidden from the Diocese of Metuchen when he was hired in December 2001, agreed last week to plead guilty to charges of sexual assault that occurred in 1990 and 1991 in Milwaukee.

Palathingal, 62, is scheduled to appear Tuesday before Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Karen Christenson, who is expected to announce a date for her hearing of the agreement reached by Palathingal and the district attorney.

Palathingal was arrested June 3 in South Amboy, where he was serving at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church. He was charged with four counts of abusing Nick Janovsky, who was 9 at the time of the assaults, at a house for retired priests in Milwaukee.

Janovsky, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the Diocese of Milwaukee for its handling of the case, approved of the plea agreement. "I have a mixed reaction," he said yesterday from his home in Florida. "I am happy (Palathingal) will be punished. Unfortunately, this man wasn't stopped years ago. Who knows how many others he abused?"

While condemning church leaders in Milwaukee, Janovsky praised Bishop Paul Bootkoski of the Diocese of Metuchen for a letter addressed to St. Mary parishioners, detailing the hiring of Palathingal and suggesting the need for a nationwide database to track priests' careers.

"If such a database were in existence we likely would have known that Father Palathingal had ministered in Milwaukee and we could have inquired about his conduct there," Bootkoski wrote. "We had no knowledge of his being in Milwaukee until he was arrested in South Amboy."

Authorities were aware of the allegations in 1993, but did not pursue a court case. Janovsky had already testified in a similar case involving abuse by his uncle, the Rev. Dennis Pecore, who was eventually sentenced to 12 years in prison.

"It was a balanced decision," said Milwaukee District Attorney Gale Shelton of the decision not to prosecute Palathingal in 1993. She recalled how Janovsky's relatives sided with his uncle and "wrote vicious letters about this young boy.

"It was a tremendous ordeal. We didn't think (prosecution) was in the best interest of the child," she said.

After those allegations were made, Palathingal returned to his native India, which caused another roadblock to prosecution.

Palathingal was suspected of abuse in Louisiana in 2002, but the Diocese of Lake Charles dropped its investigation when the parents of the alleged victim refused to meet with authorities.

While no charges have been linked to Palathingal in New Jersey, his arrest was an embarrassment to the Diocese of Metuchen, which immediately began a study of its hiring of religious order priests.

In his letter to parishioners, Bootkoski said the diocese had received a positive recommendation from the Salesians of Don Bosco, the religious order under which Palathingal was ordained, and three positive recommendations from the Diocese of Lake Charles.

The first hint of wrongdoing, according to Bootkoski, came in July 2002 when the diocese was informed by the Diocese of Lake Charles that Palathingal had been accused of "questionable and inappropriate sexual conduct toward a minor boy" during a visit to Louisiana.

Palathingal, who had returned to India after the charges were made, was allowed to return to St. Mary in September of 2002, after an investigation by the diocese "did not suggest criminal behavior."

In his letter, Bootkoski said the case has prompted a comprehensive internal review, with the diocese asking itself what it should do if charges are made "but not substantiated because the victim or witness does not want to cooperate with an investigation into the facts?"

He added, "Where does our belief, as a Church and a nation, that a person is innocent until proven guilty figure in a case like this?"

Janovsky called the letter "a humbly written, detailed and complete account . . . an extremely rare yet inspiring letter that the bishop himself writes, holding back no facts."

Rick Malwitz: (732) 565-7291