A former Greenbush, Minn., Catholic priest, charged with sexually assaulting a young girl there in 2004, remains working as a priest in India and says he's innocent and won't return to face the charges in Roseau County, according to a report Monday from The Associated Press.
The Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul worked in the Catholic Diocese of Crookston on loan from the Indian diocese for less than a year before he returned to India in September 2005, about a year before the girl reported the assault.
The Herald reported last summer about the criminal and civil allegations against Jeyapaul.
But his statements reported Monday by the AP raise questions about the role of Crookston diocesan officials in Jeyapaul remaining in India and working as a priest.
Jeyapaul said Crookston diocese officials told him to stay in India once sexual assault charges were filed against him, AP reported. That doesn't jibe with what a diocesan official told the Herald last summer when the criminal case against Jeyapaul became public.
"It is a false accusation against me," Jeyapaul told the AP. "I do not know that girl at all."
But the woman, who was 14 or 15 in late 2004, tells a different story.
The girl's complaint
After school one day in November 2004, as was her habit, the girl stopped in at her home parish, Blessed Sacrament in Greenbush, to pray alone, the girl said in a criminal complaint filed in late 2006 in Roseau County.
Jeyapaul approached her, demanded she come into the adjacent rectory, where he lived, or he "would kill her and her family," the girl alleged in the complaint that was sealed until last summer.
Jeyapaul made "strange" and "weird" noises, disrobed and demanded she touch him, telling her it would be a sin if she didn't. He forced her to perform oral sex and molested her. He told her she was a bad person and that she should kill herself. If she didn't, he would kill her and her family, the girl said.
The complaint filed against Jeyapaul in late 2006, then amended in early 2007, contains two charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, each carrying a maximum sentence of 30 years.
Among many criminal sexual conduct cases she handled in more than a decade as Roseau County Attorney until January 2007, Jeyapaul's was on the only one involving a priest of the Crookston diocese, Michelle Moren said Monday.
She said diocesan officials cooperated with her investigation, providing information about Jeyapaul.
But she learned, during "a heated discussion" with diocesan officials in 2006, that a file on the priest that was supposed to be in diocesan offices, according the church's own canon law, actually was in the offices of the Crookston attorney for the diocese, Moren said.
Once she executed a search warrant, the diocese and its attorney provided her with information about Jeyapaul, Moren said.
Diocesan offices in Crookston were closed Monday because of Easter and officials could not be reached.
Diocese: Priest left
Monsignor David Baumgartner, vicar-general of the Crookston diocese, told the Herald last summer that Jeyapaul came to the diocese in late September 2004. After about six weeks in Thief River Falls, he was assigned to the Greenbush parish.
In August 2005, complaints were made to the diocese about Jeyapaul's behavior with a young person or persons.
The complaints didn't involve the girl who later filed the criminal complaint, and they didn't involve any alleged illegal actions, Baumgartner said. Rather, it was that the priest appeared to be "grooming" a young person or persons for an inappropriate relationship, Baumgartner said.
On Sept. 4, 2005, Jeyapaul returned to India, saying he had to care for a dying relative, and he never returned, Baumgartner said. Sept. 15, 2005, then-Bishop Victor Balke withdrew the diocese's invitation to Jeyapaul to serve there, effectively suspending him from any work in the Crookston diocese.
In October 2006, the diocese became aware of the girl's allegations that Jeyapaul had sexually assaulted her almost two years earlier, Baumgartner said.
In late 2006, criminal charges were filed in Roseau County against Jeyapaul, alleging the sexual assault against the girl. An amended complaint was filed in January 2007.
Moren said she talked to the girl and her parents and found her account credible.
Moren sealed the criminal complaint and it didn't become public until last summer, after the girl, now 20, filed a civil lawsuit against the Crookston diocese.
Once that suit was filed, Roseau County Attorney Lisa Hanson, who succeeded Moren, unsealed the criminal case.
Hanson said Moren had sealed it because of concern about other possible victims, the ongoing investigation and "concern about the welfare of the victim if the case became public and what impact that would have on her," Hanson said last summer.
The girl had been traumatized by the attack, Hanson said.
So far, no other allegations about Jeyapaul from other victims have come to her attention, Hanson said last summer.
Bishop Balke retired in 2007, replaced by Bishop Michael Hoeppner. Balke lives in Moorhead.
Priest: Balke said to stay in India
Baumgartner said last summer that the diocese did not aid Jeyapaul in returning to India and would have preferred that he stay in the diocese. But the diocese has no authority over him or his diocese in India and can't order him to return, Baumgartner said.
But AP reported Monday that Jeyapaul said Balke told him to stay in India because of the charges against him.
"My mother told me to remain here, and the (Crookston) bishop also told me not to come back, because these allegations have come against you," Jeyapaul told AP.
In a May 2006 letter to Balke, Archbishop Angelo Amato of Rome 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," AP reported.
Amato was secretary to Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles all abuse cases. He apparently was responding to Balke's communication with Rome after the Crookston diocese effectively suspended Jeyapaul from working there after he returned to India.
According to the timeline provided by Monsignor Baumgartner, Balke didn't know yet in early 2006 about Jeyapaul's sexual assault in Greenbush.
But the diocese did know, as early as August 2005, about the complaints over his inappropriate behavior with one or more young people in Greenbush, according to Baumgartner.
Balke warned Rome about priest
In subsequent letters, Balke warned both Levada and a top Vatican official in the U.S. about Jeyapaul, apparently after learning of the girl's allegations of sexual assault, according to the AP.
"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 Dec. 21, 2006.
The letters are among evidence against Jeyapaul provided to the AP by Jeff Anderson, the attorney for Jeyapaul's accuser.
Anderson held a news conference Monday in St. Paul, saying church officials haven't done enough to force Jeyapaul to face justice.
On Dec. 21, 2006, Balke wrote about the accusations against Jeyapaul to both Levada and the Rev. Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio and the Vatican's ambassador to the United States.
"I hope that for the good of the Church you are able to reach a speedy resolution to this case," he wrote to Levada, according to a letter obtained by AP.
A week later, Rev. Sambi wrote to Bishop Balke: "I assure you that this material has already been forwarded to the Holy See."
But Jeyapaul remained working as a priest in India.
According to Jeyapaul's bishop in India, the Most Rev. A. Almaraj, Jeyapaul works in the bishop's office processing teacher appointments for a dozen church schools and does not work with children, the AP reported.
Roseau County Attorney Lisa Hanson told the Herald she was trying to get Jeyapaul extradited from India, but that it's a complex process run by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The AP reported Monday that the Vatican hasn't ordered bishops to obey such extradition orders by civil authorities.
Almaraj said the church had never discussed asking Jeyapaul to return to the United States to appear in court.
"No steps were taken. Nobody talked about that. Nobody asked about that," Almaraj said.
Stephen Lee is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.