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Published April 05, 2010, 09:21 AM

Former Greenbush Priest Accused of Abuse

A Catholic priest charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota says the accusations against him are false and that he has no plans to travel from his home diocese in India to the U.S. to face a trial.

By: Associated Press, WDAZ

Top officials at the Vatican were warned more than four years ago about a

Catholic priest later charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota, according to newly released Vatican correspondence, but to this day he continues to work in his home diocese in India.

Prosecutors in Minnesota said on Monday they are trying to extradite the

Reverend Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul.

Jeyapaul denied the abuse allegations and said he has no plans to return to

the United States to face the courts.

Jeyapaul was charged in January 2007 while he was in India.

He said officials from the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, told him to stay put.

His current bishop, the Most Reverend A. Almaraj of the diocese of

Ootacamund in southern India, said Jeyapaul works in his office processing teacher appointments for a dozen church schools and does not work with children.

In letter from May 2006 to the Bishop Victor Balke of the Diocese of

Crookston, Archbishop Angelo Amato wrote that Jeyapaul's bishop had been instructed to monitor him "so that he does not constitute a risk to minors and does not create scandal."

Amato was secretary to Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation

for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles all abuse cases.

In subsequent letters, Balke warned both Levada and a top Vatican official

in the US about Jeyapaul.

"It is difficult for me to quantify the harm that this man has done to the

dignity of the priesthood," Balke wrote to Levada on 21 December 2006.

The letters are among evidence against Jeyapaul provided to the Associated

Press by Jeff Anderson, the attorney for Jeyapaul's accuser.

Jeyapaul is wanted in the US on two counts of criminal sexual conduct

stemming from accusations he assaulted a young, female parishioner in 2004 at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenbush, where he was working.

Each charge carries a sentence of up to 30 years.

According to the criminal complaint, the teenage girl accused Jeyapaul of

threatening to kill her family if she did not come into the rectory, where

he then forced her to perform oral sex on him and groped her.

In a telephone call with the Associated Press, Jeyapaul denied the charges.

Lisa Hanson, the prosecutor in northern Minnesota's Roseau County, said her

office was in the process of trying to extradite Jeyapaul.

She wouldn't provide specifics on the timing nor approach, but said her

office has been working with the US Justice Department.

Almaraj said the Vatican did not take any part in disciplining Jeyapaul.

He received only a minor punishment.

Anderson held a news conference on Monday to draw attention to the Jeyapaul

case, demanding he be suspended and returned to the US to face justice.

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

The Vatican has insisted Pope Benedict XVI takes such accusations seriously

and cracked down on abuse in 2001 by ordering dioceses to inform the Vatican of all such cases.

However, the Vatican hasn't issued any guidelines requiring bishops to heed

civil authorities, though it insists nothing in its directives precludes

such cooperation.

Almaraj said the church had never discussed asking Jeyapaul to return to the United States to appear in court.

Right after the accusations against Jeyapaul first surfaced in 2005, the

priest returned home to visit his ailing mother.

On 21 December 2006, Balke wrote about the accusations against Jeyapaul to

both Levada and the Most Reverand Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio, the Vatican's ambassador, to the United States.

It's not clear what actions, if any, the Vatican took.

Alamaraj said the Vatican was informed of his disciplinary actions against

Jeyapaul, but had no input.

A week later, Reverand Sambi wrote to Bishop Balke: "I assure you that this

material has already been forwarded to the Holy See."

Officials in the Diocese of Crookston, which was closed on Monday, did not

immediately respond to a phone message.

It's not clear what actions, if any, the Vatican took.

Alamaraj said the Vatican was informed of his disciplinary actions against

Jeyapaul but had no input.

Attorney Anderson said, "And what did the Vatican do?"

After a lengthy pause in the news conference he added: "My silence is the

answer."

The Vatican said it has cooperated with US law enforcement officials working to extradite an the priest.

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