Priest Pleads Not Guilty to Sexually Touching a Minor

By Arielle Zionts
Rapid City Journal
November 16, 2018

A priest who previously served in the Diocese of Rapid City pleaded not guilty Friday to two counts of having sexual contact with a child under the age of 16.

John Praveen, 38, served in the diocese before he was charged Oct. 2 and accused of sexually touching a 13-year-old girl over her clothes, according to court records and statements.

Before calling court to order, Judge Robert Mandel of the 7th Circuit called a translation company to connect with a Telugu speaker who had been booked for the arraignment.

Praveen, who is from India, was originally set to be arraigned Nov. 6, but the hearing was rescheduled after Mandel wasn't able to reach a translator.

During the arraignment, Mandel read Praveen his rights and charges, pausing for the translator to repeat what he said in Telugu over the speakerphone. Praveen looked toward the phone, occasionally nodding as he listened.

Praveen answered in a mix of English and Telugu when Mandel asked his name, age and whether he understands his rights. He pleaded "not guilty" in English to his two charges.

Bond was not brought up during the arraignment as it had on Nov. 6, when his defense lawyer, John Murphy, asked Mandel to reduce Praveen's $100,000 cash-only bond to a personal recognizance one. During that hearing, he said Bishop Robert Gruss said if Praveen is released, the diocese would house and supervise him at a priest retirement home in Piedmont. The diocese later reversed that option after community and church members said they were upset since the retirement home is near a church and middle school.

During the Nov. 6 hearing, Mandel said he wouldn't rule on bond and asked Murphy and the Pennington County State Attorney's Office to work together to propose a new bond. Murphy could not be reached to ask if he's planning on challenging the bond at a later date, or if he's dropped the issue.

During the arraignment, there were two priests in the audience sitting next to a man and a woman on one side of the court, and three women on the other side.

After the hearing, one of the women who would not provide her name approached Brian Christensen, a priest at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rapid City, to complain about the Catholic Church's response to clergy sex abuse and accuse the diocese of defending Praveen.

Christensen said if Praveen is released, the diocese has a responsibility to house him, both under religious law and as the sponsor of his visa.

"I have the same pursuit that you do" to seek justice, Christensen told the woman.








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