Minn. attorney: Extraditing priest may take years

Extraditing a Roman Catholic priest from his native India to face charges of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in Minnesota could take several years, the prosecutor in the case said Thursday.

Roseau County Attorney Lisa Hanson said federal officials told her the extradition of Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul could last four or five years if he's uncooperative. A formal extradition request was filed with the Department of Justice last fall, she said.

"I'm told the process is very slow and convoluted," Hanson said. "If he decides to fight it, we could be looking at a very long process."

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on extradition proceedings.

Jeyapaul was charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct in January 2007. Authorities believe he assaulted a 14-year-old female parishioner in the rectory of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Greenbush, a small town near the Canadian border where he was assigned.

Jeyapaul, 55, has denied the charges and said he was willing to return and face them. The charges were filed more than a year after he returned to India.

Hanson said she is committed to seeing Jeyapaul face the U.S. courts even if it takes years. But she said if Jeyapaul truly wants to face the charges, he and his superiors have the power to expedite it.

"We would appreciate any cooperation from the Catholic church in getting him to come back," Hanson said.

Jeyapaul came to Minnesota in 2004, and was assigned to the church in Greenbush, about 340 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

He returned to India to visit his ailing mother in late 2005. While there, allegations surfaced in Minnesota of an inappropriate relationship he allegedly had with a 16-year-old girl. Jeyapaul was accused of gaining her trust by encouraging her interest in becoming a nun.

Bishop Victor Balke of the Diocese of Crookston told Jeyapaul not to come back or he would go to the police, according to an e-mail sent by Balke and provided by a victim's attorney. Jeyapaul was later charged with sexually assaulting the 14-year-old girl.

Balke raised concerns with several top Vatican officials about Jeyapaul's continued service to the church. The Vatican said officials thought Jeyapaul should be removed from the priesthood but church law left the decision to his local bishop in India. The Most Rev. A. Almaraj, the bishop of the Diocese of Ootacamund, held a canonical trial and sentenced Jeyapaul to a year in a monastery.

Almaraj said he could not take strong action unless Jeyapaul's guilt was proved. Jeyapaul now works in the diocese's office handling paperwork for schools. (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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