Priest Accused of Rape in Roseau County Won't Fight Extradition from India

Star Tribune
April 6, 2010

[with video]

A Roman Catholic priest accused of raping at 15-year-old girl in a tiny northern Minnesota town five years ago said Tuesday he's willing to leave his native India and return to the United States in an attempt to clear his name.

"I am ready to go because I am innocent," said the Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul. "I am ready to prove I did not do any wrong."

Roseau County prosecutor Lisa Hanson said her office has been working with the U.S. Justice Department to extradite Jeyapaul.

"He's charged with serious felonies here in this country," Hanson said. "We want justice for the victim here and we want to do whatever we can to protect potential future victims everywhere."

Jeyapaul said his accusers falsely targeted him to get money from the Minnesota diocese, and he fought back against the Vatican's recommendation that he no longer be a priest.

"I explained to the Vatican that I am not guilty, so I do not want to leave the priesthood," he said.

Jeyapaul said Tuesday that if authorities seek to extradite him, he won't fight it.

Jeyapaul's comments came a day after his case was highlighted by Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul lawyer who has for years represented people who have said they were sexually abused by priests.

"The cumulative weight of these disclosures, which now are coming from across the globe, is starting to make a difference," Anderson said. "We are discovering that under public pressure even the papacy can be held accountable."

Anderson released documents Monday indicating that Bishop Victor Balke of the Diocese of Crookston tried three times to alert superiors about the rape allegations against Jeyapaul.

Jeyapaul was one of many foreign priests brought to help fill shortages in U.S. parishes. Jeyapaul, 55, came to Minnesota in 2004 and was assigned to work at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Greenbush, a town of fewer than 1,000 people just south of the Canadian border.

In 2005, he went to India to visit his ailing mother before criminal charges were filed.

Balke wrote his first letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office charged with disciplining priests, in December 2005.

"I cannot in good conscience allow this matter to be passed over because the cleric has left my territory," he 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."

Five months later, the office responded to Balke that Jeyapaul was being monitored.

However, the bishop who currently oversees Jeyapaul said he had overruled a Vatican recommendation that the accused priest be removed from the priesthood and applied his own lesser punishment.

"Unless guilt is proved, we cannot take any strong action," said Bishop A. Almaraj of the Diocese of Ootacamund in southern India.

The Vatican said officials thought Jeyapaul should be removed from the priesthood, but under church law, the decision was up to the local bishop in India. Almaraj held his own canonical trial and sentenced Jeyapaul to spend a year in a monastery.

"He didn't want to leave the priesthood, so then we took this administrative process," Almaraj said. "He is accused. If it is proved he is guilty, then the necessary action will be taken with the guidelines from the Vatican."

In a May 2006 letter, a Vatican official said Jeyapaul's bishop in India had been instructed to monitor him "so that he does not constitute a risk to minors and does not create scandal."

Vatican officials said they cooperated with efforts to extradite him to the U.S. -- even providing authorities with his exact location in India.

On Monday, Almaraj said that there had been no discussion of Jeyapaul returning to the United States to face the charges, but on Tuesday he said that in light of the very public criticism of the case he should go back.

"It is his duty to prove his innocence," he said.

The case will be referred to the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.

Father Babu Joseph, spokesman for the conference, stressed that the church would ask Jeyapaul to face the courts in the U.S. if an extradition request was made. "We don't want any leniency on this. We take it very seriously," he said.

Jeyapaul's case was the second time in five days that evidence has surfaced indicating that the Roman Catholic heirarcy ignored warnings from an Upper Midwest bishop about a priest sexually abusing children.

The documents made public Monday were obtained from a suit filed by the alleged rape victim and another unnamed teenage girl who said that Jeyapaul also fondled her, although no criminal charges were filed in that case. Mike Finnegan, one of Anderson's associates, has filed a suit accusing the Diocese of Crookston of negligence and fraud in connection with its handling of the incidents. The diocese office was closed for Easter Monday, and officials were unavailable for comment.

Jeyapaul currently is serving as the secretary for the Diocesan Commission for Education in his home diocese of Ootacamund.

Anderson demanded that Jeyapaul be suspended and returned to the U.S.

"Everyone knew there was a serious problem, but they chose not to ask and they chose not to tell," Anderson said.

The Vatican has denounced such accusations and has blamed the media for what it calls a smear campaign against the pope and his advisers.

Meanwhile, in a second abuse case, a church official confirmed Tuesday that a priest convicted of fondling a 12-year-old altar girl in New York more than a decade ago had returned home to India where he still serves as a priest.

The Rev. Francis X. Nelson was sentenced to four months in prison in 2003 in connection with his role as a visiting priest at a church in Brooklyn. His victim testified that Nelson showed up at her grandmother's apartment uninvited and groped her.

Staff writers Jeff Strickler, Bob von Sternberg and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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