Priest accused of sexually assaulting teenage girl in Minnesota likely to be extradited from India to face trial

By The American Bazaar Staff

September 10, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC: Roman Catholic priest Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, who has been incarcerated at the Tihar Jail in New Delhi for two years, is likely to be extradited soon by the Indian government to face trial in Minnesota, over allegations of sexual assault of a teenage girl during his time of service there nearly 10 years ago.

It’s now up to the federal government to decide whether Jeyapaul should be sent to the U.S. to stand trial, said Naveen Kumar Matta, a public prosecutor for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, reported the Associated Press. The United States had requested in 2011 that Jeyapaul be extradited.

Jeyapaul had evaded arrest on criminal charges in Minnesota, and returned to India, in 2005, and was appointed as the director of community education at Ooty diocese, but was placed under suspension in 2010 when the charges surfaced, reported the Deccan Chronicle.

Fr. A. Antonysamy, vicar-general of Ooty diocese of the Roman Catholic Church told the Chronicle that the diocese had held an enquiry and suspended Jeyapaul as soon as the allegations surfaced. “He left Ooty mid-2010 and we learnt subsequently that he was arrested at Thalavadi near Erode in 2012 by Interpol intervention and has been lodged in Tihar prison in Delhi since then”, said the vicar-general.

The judge presiding over the case rejected Jeyapaul’s counsel’s plea that the priest had been falsely implicated due to (racial) discrimination.

“The instant case is based on the testimony of a young girl, duly investigated by competent authorities who have no concern with the appointment of fugitive criminal as a priest. Therefore, chances of false implication of the fugitive criminal are prime facie ruled out. Further, fugitive criminal would get an opportunity to raise his defence and assail the prosecution case at the time of trial,” the judge ruled.

According to the Minneapolis City Pages, Jeyapaul served for one year at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenbush, Minnesota, and returned to India in 2005 ahead of two allegations of sexual abuse involving teenaged girls.

Both girls, according to church documents, were considering religious life as a vocation and had reached out to Jeyapaul for advice. One said the priest had kissed her inappropriately. The other, Megan Peterson — who has since come forward — alleged that he’d masturbated in front of her, groped her, and forced her to give him oral sex. She has 14 years old then. Her subsequent complaint resulted in criminal charges being filed against Jeyapaul.

Back in 2006, Bishop Victor Balke of the Diocese of Crookston had alerted both Jeyapaul and his supervising bishop about possible criminal charges, urging the priest to cooperate with civil authorities. In a letter, he also alleged that Jeyapaul had 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 added, “I cannot in good conscience allow this matter to be passed over because the cleric has left my territory. 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.”

Instead, Indian clerics responded by ordering Jeyapaul to undergo counseling and spend a year in prayer. He was warned, according to the New York Times, about committing “any further mischief” and denied access to children, though allowed to stay in ministry and serve as an education commissioner, said the Pages.

In an interview to ABC News in April, 2010, conducted in Ooty, Jeyapaul said that he was innocent and claimed that the accusations were inspired by a desire for money.

“I am not guilty,” Jeyapaul told ABC News. “I am innocent. I did not commit any sin against anybody.”

Jeyapaul said that children in the parish office in Minnesota were “always” accompanied by their parents, and that other employees were present in the office.

“They don’t come alone,” he said. “When I was in the parish office, I had a secretary, I have youth director, I have the catechism director.”

As a result of the allegations, Jeyapaul said he was not allowed to continue his work in the Minnesota parish. He said he was so distraught on learning of the accusations that his bishop in Ooty told him he should take a year-long course in spirituality so he could reconnect with his religion.

When asked as to why did the charges come up against him, he said the answer was financial.

“Now I’ve come to know they are asking money from the diocese,” he said. “That’s why. That is the motive behind it.”

Reports said that one of the cases had been settled by the church for $750,000.

The Chicago Tribune in a report two years ago, pointed out that efforts to extradite another Indian priest who fled to India, the Rev. Sleeva Raju Policetti, dragged on for nearly a decade. Policetti was charged in 2002 with 20 counts of criminal sexual assault and abuse of a 16-year-old Chicago girl, but the charges got into jeopardy because a lawyer for the alleged victim indicated she may not want to pursue prosecution.

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