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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Accused Indian priest says he will return to U.S.; sex abuse victims respond
Statement by Barbara Blaine, President of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (312-399-4747, SNAPnetwork.org)
Talk is cheap. We’ll believe church officials when we actually see Jeyapaul surrender to law enforcement.
It’s tragic that it requires international media pressure to get Vatican, Indian and US Catholic officials to simply honor their legal obligation and get a predator priest back to America to face justice.
Even now, we’re skeptical that Jeyapaul will ever show up here. He of course, shouldn’t be returning voluntarily. He should be coming back to the US because his supervisors are threatening to stop paying him until he does.
We call on Jeyapaul’s supervising bishops in Minnesota and India to confirm or deny his claim that he knew nothing of criminal charges against him.
It’s noteworthy that while the attorney for the victims has produced dozens of pages of documentation proving his claims, the church defense lawyer makes claims without producing even a single piece of paper to back them up. We challenge Lena to show proof of what he’s claiming.
Finally, we hope that every single person who saw, suspected or suffered Jeyapaul’s crimes will come forward, get help, call police, protect others and start healing.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 9,000 members across the country. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Peter Isely (414-429-7259), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell)
Accused Indian Priest Says He Will Return to U.S.
By JIM YARDLEY and LAURIE GOODSTEIN - April 6, 2010
NEW DELHI — A Roman Catholic priest in southern India charged with the 2004 sexual assault on a teenage girl in Minnesota said Tuesday that he had been unaware of any criminal case against him until he was contacted by reporters a day earlier and that he would be willing to return to the United States to prove his innocence.
“I am ready to do it,” the Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul said in a telephone interview. “I want to explain myself, that I am innocent.”
“I don’t know anything,” he said of the criminal case. “They didn’t inform me of anything. Only through the media did I come to know.”
Father Jeyapaul, who is now working in his home diocese in southern Indian, is the focus of two cases in which teenage girls said he molested them when he was serving in a diocese in northern Minnesota in 2004 and 2005. Criminal charges were brought in one case in December 2006, charging that the priest had forced her to perform oral sex and had threatened her and her family.
Church documents released on Monday as part of a suit the victim, now 20, is bringing against the Diocese of Crookston, Minn., show that its former bishop sent repeated warnings to the Vatican about Father Jeyapaul, saying that he was a continuing danger to women and children.
A county attorney in Minnesota is seeking the priest’s extradition from India.
The bishop sent his warnings during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, who has recently come under fire for his role in handling 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.
Criminal charges were filed in December 2006, and a Vatican lawyer in the United States, Jeffrey Lena, said Monday that the Vatican had provided the priest’s location in India to law enforcement authorities seeking his extradition.
However, a spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said Tuesday that the Indian government had not been contacted about extradition.
“We have not been contacted as of yet,” a ministry spokesman said.
Bishop Arulappan Almaraj, who supervises Father Jeyapaul in the Diocese of Ootacamund in Tamil Nadu State, said he also was unaware of any criminal case against the priest and had never been contacted by any authorities seeking the priest’s extradition.
“No, no, no,” the bishop said by telephone. “There was no mention of a criminal case.”
The accusations against Father Jeyapaul emerged in 2005, after he returned to India to care for his ailing mother. He had spent a year in the Crookston Diocese, which had been bringing in foreign priests on temporary assignments to compensate for the shortage of American priests.
Father Jeyapaul said he left Minnesota on Aug. 28, 2005, and received an e-mail on Sept. 15 from Victor H. Balke, then the bishop of the Crookston Diocese, informing him that a teenage girl had accused him of sexual assault.
“I told them that I will come back and prove that I am innocent,” he said. “But the bishop withdrew the invitation. He said not to come back.”
However, in a letter dated Dec. 7, 2005, the Bishop Balke told the Vatican that he had requested that Father Jeyapaul return to Minnesota to “be made accountable for his actions,” but that he had had “no indication from him that he intends to return.”
Bishop Balke’s letter was addressed to Cardinal William J. Levada, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office handling abuse cases against priests.
“I cannot in good conscience allow this matter to be passed over because the cleric has left my territory,” wrote Bishop Balke, according to the church documents released Monday. “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 responded in May 2006, informing Bishop Balke that it had relayed his concerns to the diocese in India “with the request that Father Jeyapaul’s priestly life be monitored so that he does not constitute a risk to minors and does not create a scandal among the faithful.”
Bishop Almaraj conducted a canonical trial that year in India. He said Father Jeyapaul had worked in the diocese for 28 years without any problems or accusations. At the same time, Father Jeyapaul was insisting on his innocence. Bishop Almaraj said he ordered the priest to undergo counseling and be placed under his direct supervision, with no access to minors, and spend a year in prayer.
On Monday, the Vatican lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, said that the Vatican had initially recommended defrocking the priest but that the final decision, as dictated by canon law, rested with Bishop Almaraj.
Mr. Lena said in a 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.”
Bishop Balke subsequently sent two more letters to Cardinal Levada informing him that a second teenage girl had come forward with serious allegations, that criminal charges had been filed and that the county attorney in Minnesota 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.
The criminal complaint from Minnesota said that the 14-year-old girl was praying after school at Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenbush, Minnesota, when Father Jeyapaul told her to come into the rectory. The girl asserted 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.
Jim Yardley reported from New Delhi, and Laurie Goodstein from New York. Daniel J. Wakin contributed reporting from Rome, Lydia Polgreen from New Delhi, and Christina Capecchi from St. Paul.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests