Priest Charged in U.S. Is Still Serving in India

By Jack Healy
The New York Times
April 5, 2010

Jeff Anderson, left, and Mike Finnegan, lawyers, discussed the case against the Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul in St. Paul.
Photo by Jim Mone/Associated Press

A Catholic priest who has been criminally charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota six years ago is still working in his home diocese in India despite warnings to the Vatican from an American bishop that the priest continued to pose a risk to children, according to church documents made public on Monday.

The documents show that the American bishop warned the Vatican that the priest was accused of molesting two teenage girls whose trust he gained by promising to discuss their interest in becoming nuns.

A county attorney in Minnesota is seeking to extradite the priest from India in a criminal case that involves one of the girls, who said the priest had forced her to perform oral sex and had threatened her and her family.

The case took place during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, who has recently come under fire for his role in cases of sexually abusive priests in Germany and Wisconsin.

The case was handled after the Vatican clarified and streamlined its procedures in 2001 to respond to accusations of sexual abuse by priests. In the midst of a growing scandal, the Vatican has sought to defend the pope by pointing out that he was both an architect and a promoter of these procedures.

But the Vatican also says it defers to local bishops to decide how to treat accused priests, leaving it exposed to criticism that the church is not doing enough to rein in sexually abusive priests.

In 2006, the Vatican recommended that the priest simply be monitored, a document shows. A lawyer for the Holy See said in a statement that the Vatican had recommended that the priest be defrocked, but that canon law specifies that the decision rests with the local bishop. The bishop in India sentenced the priest to a year of prayer in a monastery rather than seeking his removal from the priesthood, according to documents and interviews.

The priest, the Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, was working temporarily in the Diocese of Crookston, Minn., which like many United States dioceses is bringing in priests from India because there are not enough American priests to serve its parishes. Father Jeyapaul ministered to three parishes simultaneously in Crookston, where he was accused of misappropriating church funds as well as sexual abuse.

A lawyer for the Holy See, Jeffrey Lena, said in a statement on Monday that the Vatican had cooperated with law enforcement authorities seeking the priest’s extradition and had provided the location of the priest in India.

Lisa B. Hanson, the county attorney in Roseau, Minn., said, “Maybe all this attention has gotten them to change their tune, and if that’s the case we’ll take their cooperation.”

Mr. Lena also said that the Vatican office in charge of handling abuse cases, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had recommended laicization, which is removal from the priesthood.

Mr. Lena said in the statement: “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested in this matter that Father Jeyapaul agree to laicization, demonstrating that the Congregation believed that the accusations were serious enough to merit dismissal from the clerical state. However, as a matter of longstanding canon law, such decisions are made by the local bishop, who is deemed to be generally in the best position to adjudicate the case relating to the priest in question.” He declined to provide any documents on the case.

The bishop of Ootacamund, India, Arulappan Amalraj, told The Associated Press, which first reported the news on Monday, that Father Jeyapaul had no contact with children and would remain in the diocesan offices.

“We cannot simply throw out the priest, so he is just staying in the bishop’s house, and he is helping me with the appointment of teachers,” the bishop said. “He says he is innocent, and these are only allegations. I don’t know what else to do.”

Father Jeyapaul told The A.P., “It is a false accusation against me. I do not know the girl at all.”

The criminal complaint from Minnesota said that the 14-year-old girl, whose name is redacted, was praying after school at Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenbush, Minn., when Father Jeyapaul told her to come into the rectory. The girl claimed that when she refused to touch his genitals, he told her it was a sin and said he “could make her life miserable.” She said he then pushed her down onto a couch, touched her breasts and pulled down his pants.

The woman, now 20, has brought a lawsuit against the Diocese of Crookston. The documents were released in a news conference on Monday by her lawyers, Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, the same lawyers who gave documents last month to The New York Times on another case involving a Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys.

The former bishop of Crookston, Victor H. Balke, wrote to Cardinal William J. Levada, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in 2005, requesting that the Congregation handle the case itself.

“I cannot in good conscience allow this matter to be passed over because the cleric has left my territory,” Bishop Balke wrote. “In my mind that would be a shameful act of betrayal towards the women and girls in India to whom Fr. Jeyapaul could at present pose a serious risk.”

He received a letter back in May 2006 from Archbishop Angelo Amato, in the Vatican, saying that the Congregation conveyed the facts to the bishop in India “with the request that Father Jayapaul’s priestly life be monitored so that he does not constitute a risk to minors and does not create scandal among the faithful.”

Bishop Balke subsequently sent two more letters to Cardinal Levada informing him that a second alleged victim had come forward with more serious allegations, that criminal charges had been filed and that the county attorney wanted to extradite Father Jeyapaul. He pleaded for quick action. Bishop Balke also wrote to the Vatican’s top diplomat to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who provided the address of Father Jeyapaul in India, to give to the county attorney.

Church offices were closed on Easter Monday, and officials in the Diocese of Crookston did not respond to messages left by phone and e-mail.

Daniel J. Wakin contributed reporting from Rome, Lydia Polgreen from New Delhi and Christina Capecchi from St. Paul.


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