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Indian priest denies Minnesota abuse claims

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Catholic priest denies abuse allegations
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul now heads a church education commission in India
  • He is accused accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing two teenage girls
  • Alleged incidents happened in Minnesota in 2005
  • Jeyapaul said he would not fight any effort to bring him to the United States to face any charges

Ootacamund, India (CNN) -- A Catholic priest accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing two teenage girls in Minnesota in 2005 said Tuesday he is innocent and ready to face justice to clear his name.

The Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul now heads a church education commission here and spoke exclusively to CNN's Liz Neisloss a day after lawyers for one of the alleged victims made his name public.

"It is a lie -- it is totally a lie," Jeyapaul said of the allegations.

Jeyapaul said he would not fight any effort to bring him to the United States to face any charges. "I am ready to come and clear my status," he said.

So far, he said, authorities have given him no documents about the allegations.

Jeyapaul served in a diocese in Crookston, Minnesota, for about a year between 2004 and 2005. During that time, he allegedly abused two teenage girls, according to church documents unearthed in a lawsuit related to the case.

Complaint letters from Crookston Bishop Victor Balke to the Vatican were acknowledged by officials there, but no disciplinary action was ever taken against Jeyapaul, the documents show.

Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minnesota, attorney representing one of the alleged victims, revealed the church documents at a news conference Monday.

The county attorney's office for Roseau County, Minnesota, just north of Crookston, is trying to extradite Jeyapaul from India.

The Crookston Diocese first received reports of "inappropriate behavior" on the part of Jeyapaul in September 2005, according to a letter Balke sent four months later to Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the body that deals with cases of alleged abuse.

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Pope Benedict XVI headed the congregation before being chosen to lead the Roman Catholic Church.

Balke wrote that according to an internal investigation, Jeyapaul took a teenage girl to his rectory in the summer of 2005, where "he proceeded to kiss her repeatedly, pulling her on top of him and at one point touching her beneath her clothing."

Balke also said in the letter 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."

The bishop went on to warn the Vatican that it is "impossible to say that Father Jeyapaul does not at present pose a risk to minors."

"I cannot in good conscience allow this matter to be passed over" simply because Jeyapaul has now returned to India, Balke said. "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."

A representative to Cardinal Levada responded to Balke's letter in May 2006, acknowledging his complaint and writing that the Vatican had requested to church officials in India that "Father Jeyapaul's priestly life be monitored so that he does not constitute a risk to minors and does not create a scandal among the faithful."

Six months later, Balke relayed a new series of allegations about Jeyapaul to Levada. Balke wrote that he had received reports "of similar behavior having taken place between Fr. Jeyapaul and a second girl."

In both instances, Balke wrote, Jeyapaul had been counseling the girls about their religious lives.

Church officials once again acknowledged Balke's letter, but took no disciplinary or other action against Jeyapaul, the documents show.

Jeyapaul told CNN he could vaguely remember the first child but could not describe anything specific about her.

He said he was familiar with an allegation in 2005 that he kissed the girl because "there was an e-mail from the mother."

Asked what was in the e-mail, Jeyapaul said it was a request for him not to contact the woman's child.

Jeyapaul said he suspected money might be a motive in the allegation.

He said that in his work, he was never alone with children, because the custom was for parents to come along.

Anderson said Jeyapaul still has access to children in his job in Ootacamund, a city also known as Ooty. He accused Vatican officials of being more concerned with preserving their own reputations than with protecting children.

"We are sad because so many kids have been wounded and hurt because Catholic officials -- top Catholic officials from the Vatican on down ... don't get it and remain in denial," he said.

CNN's Liz Neisloss contributed to this report.

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