ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Roman Catholic priest was in his native India in 2007 when he was charged with sexually assaulting a teenage girl at his former post in Minnesota. Three years later, he is still serving as a priest in India with the blessing of his local bishop.
And the Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul has no intention of returning to the United States to answer the charges. His bishop said Jeyapaul handles paperwork for schools in the diocese office and does not work with children.
The Vatican weighed in Monday, saying that officials there thought Jeyapaul should be removed from the priesthood and that they cooperated with efforts to extradite him to the United States — even providing authorities with his exact location in India. But they said under church law, the decision of the priest's punishment was up to the local bishop in India.
Almaraj held his own canonical trial and sentenced Jeyapaul to spend a year in a monastery.
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 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 Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Greenbush, a town of fewer than 1,000 just south of the Canadian border.
In 2005, he went to India to visit his ailing mother. While he was there, Bishop Victor Balke of the Diocese of Crookston, Minn., said he received an anonymous letter accusing Jeyapaul of an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old girl. He investigated and e-mailed Jeyapaul with the allegations: "You are no longer welcome here, and I will go to the police if you return."
Jeyapaul wrote back to say he had been falsely accused but would stay in India.
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.
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."
No charges were ever filed in connection with the 16-year-old. But in November 2006, Balke wrote another letter to the Vatican, warning that Minnesota prosecutors were pursuing charges against Jeyapaul in connection with another girl — this one 14 — and hoped to extradite him.
Charges involving the 14-year-old were brought in January 2007. Prosecutors said she 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.