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Priest accused of US abuse won't fight extradition

 Attorney Jeff Anderson points to a poster-size photo of Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul during a news conference Monday, April 5, 2010 in St. Paul, Mi...
 Attorney Jeff Anderson stands in front of a photo of Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul during a news conference Monday, April 5, 2010 in St. Paul, Minn....

Church Abuse

Attorney Jeff Anderson points to a poster-size photo of Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul during a news conference Monday, April 5, 2010 in St. Paul, Mi...

APTOPIX Church Abuse

Attorney Jeff Anderson stands in front of a photo of Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul during a news conference Monday, April 5, 2010 in St. Paul, Minn....

A Roman Catholic priest charged with sexually assaulting a teenage parishioner in Minnesota said Tuesday he would willingly leave his native India and try to clear his name in the courts if the United States tried to extradite him.
Meanwhile, the bishop who oversees the Rev. Joseph Palanivel 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 the Most Rev. A. Almaraj of the Diocese of Ootacamund in southern India.
Critics of the Catholic Church have seized on the case as another example of what they said is a practice of protecting child-molesting priests from the law.
Jeyapaul, who denied the accusations, was one of many foreign priests brought to help fill shortages in U.S. parishes. Last year, about one-quarter of the newly ordained priests in the United States were foreign-born, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
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.
While he was in India, he was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old girl, and Bishop Victor Balke of the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, told Jeyapaul not to come back or he would go to the police. Jeyapaul was later charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old female parishioner.
Balke also notified the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the top office in the Vatican that was formerly headed by Pope Benedict XVI and handles all abuse cases involving priests.
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.
Almaraj said Monday that there had been no discussion of Jeyapaul returning to the United States to face the charges, but he said Tuesday 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.
Jeyapaul, who continues to work in the diocese office handling paperwork for schools, said he would not put up a fight if the United States tried to extradite him.
"I am ready to go because I am innocent. I am ready to prove I did not do any wrong," he said.
Lisa Hanson, the prosecutor in northern Minnesota's Roseau County, 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."
Officials at India's Foreign Ministry were not available to discuss whether the U.S. asked for Jeyapaul's extradition.
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.
An attorney for the alleged victim in the Minnesota case, Jeff Anderson, demanded Monday 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.
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Associated Press reporter Patrick Condon contributed to this report from St. Paul, Minnesota and Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.


Updated : 2021-03-08 21:38 GMT+08:00