A Suspect in Minnesota, Still a Priest in India
Priest Charged with Teen's Sex Assault in Crookston Diocese

By Emily Gurnon
Pioneer Press
April 6, 2010

A Crookston, Minn., bishop met with Vatican officials and wrote to them twice about a priest he believed may have sexually abused two teenage girls in 2004 and 2005.

The priest, the Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul, 54, had returned to his home parish in India, but then-Bishop Victor Balke implored top church officials to take disciplinary action.

Four years later, Jeyapaul not only remains a priest but also serves as secretary of the Diocesan Commission for Education in Ootacamund, India, which runs 40 schools.

One of the alleged victims has sued the Diocese of Crookston.

Jeyapaul was charged in 2007 in Roseau County with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Roseau County Attorney Lisa Hanson said Monday that her office is trying to extradite him to the United States, but that the process could take up to five years. Jeyapaul denied the allegations and said he has no plans to return to the U.S. to face charges.

The then-bishop of Crookston was not pleased.

"For my part, I cannot in good conscience allow this matter to be passed over because the cleric has left my territory," Balke wrote in a Dec. 7, 2005, letter to William Levada, the prefect in charge of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles abuse claims against priests. "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."

The Vatican's response came five months later: It would pass along the information to his bishop in India with the request that Jeyapaul be "monitored."

The bishop in India said Jeyapaul helps with appointment of teachers and has "nothing to do with the children or anything."

The letters between Balke and officials at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are among several released to the media Monday by St. Paul attorneys Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, who are representing one of the women in her lawsuit against the Crookston diocese.

They provide a rare glimpse into discussions within the Roman Catholic Church's hierarchy about sexual abuse allegations.

The woman identified as Jane Doe 121 in the lawsuit was 14 or 15 at the time of the alleged abuse. The other was 16.

The Vatican said Monday that it has cooperated with U.S. law enforcement officials working on the extradition.

Vatican attorney Jeffrey Lena said that the Holy See had recommended Jeyapaul be defrocked, because it believed the charges were serious enough, but that his local bishop in India refused, according to the Associated Press.

The bishop, the Most Rev. A. Almaraj of the diocese of Ootacamund, said he had disciplined Jeyapaul by sending him to a monastery for prayer.

St. Paul lawyer Jeff Anderson stands before an enlarged photo of the Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul, charged in 2007 with sexually assaulting a teen girl in Minnesota, at a news conference Monday. Anderson, who represents the woman in a lawsuit against the Crookston Diocese of the Catholic Church, released papers showing the then-bishop of the diocese twice wrote to Vatican officials attempting to have Jeyapaul disciplined. (Associated Press: Jim Mone)

Finnegan said the Vatican is the only church entity with the authority to defrock a priest.

"It is sad that the Vatican would try to blame this local bishop rather than taking responsibility for its actions in allowing this fugitive pedophile to work as the education secretary overseeing 40 schools," Finnegan said.

Jeyapaul was ordained in India and became a visiting, or "extern," priest in the Crookston diocese in October 2004. He served in Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenbush, Minn., St. Joseph in Middle River and St. Edward in Karlstad until he returned to India in September 2005 to visit his dying mother, according to one of the letters from Balke to Levada.

After he left, the diocese in Crookston began getting reports of "inappropriate behavior" by Jeyapaul with a 16-year-old girl, the December 2005 letter said. The reports suggested that the priest was "seemingly attempting to 'seduce' (the girl) by buying her gifts, cooking her meals at his rectory, and kissing her while telling her that such behavior was acceptable because he was a priest and she was discerning a vocation to religious life," or thinking about becoming a nun, the letter said.

He used the counseling about her vocation as a "means of getting access to the girl away from the supervision of her parents," Balke told Levada.

On one occasion, Jeyapaul took the girl to the rectory, kissed her repeatedly, pulled her on top of him and touched her beneath her clothing, Balke wrote in the letter to Levada.

Reports about the second girl, the subject of the criminal complaint and the lawsuit, came to the diocese in 2006, Balke told Levada in a letter that year.

Her father reported that Jeyapaul had "rubbed up against her at the rectory in Middle River, in the confessional at Middle River and then had fondled her breasts, exposed himself to her" and forced oral sex on her.

The criminal complaint said that the oral sex happened at the rectory and that Jeyapaul told the girl it would be a sin if she did not touch him. He also allegedly threatened to kill her family if she did not come into the rectory with him.

In addition to the sexual allegations, Balke told Levada that Jeyapaul misappropriated "a substantial amount of money belonging to the parish, and also attempted to give a diocesan vehicle to a third party as payment for an outstanding debt."

Balke retired in 2007. The office of the Crookston Diocese was closed for Easter on Monday; the current bishop did not respond to an e-mail message.


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