An Indian priest accused of raping two teenage girls while he worked at a Catholic church in Minnesota says that he is innocent, and claims that the accusations were inspired by a desire for money.
"I am not guilty," the Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul told ABC News. "I am innocent. I did not commit any sin against anybody." He added that he was ready to return to the U.S. to stand trial.
"I am ready if they call me for any trial, I am ready to come and explain myself that i am innocent," said Jeyapaul.
Police in Roseau County, Minn., have an arrest warrant for Jeyapaul and considers him a fugitive, but Jeyapaul continues to work in a Catholic school system five years after the Vatican was made aware of the accusations against him, according to documents and testimony in a lawsuit against the Church.
Documents in the case say that he oversees the hiring of teachers for 40 Catholic schools in the diocese of Ootacamund, which is headquartered in this breezy, hillside town in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Jeyapaul denies that he fled Minnesota for India because of the charges. He said that he was in India aiding his ailing mother when he learned of the accusations against him in the U.S.
"I completely was upset and I told it was a false accusation," he said.
Jeyapaul said that children in the parish office in Minnesota were "always" accompanied by their parents, and that other employees were present in the office.
"They don't come alone," he said. "When I was in the parish office, I had a secretary, I have youth director, I have the catechism director."
A police report indicates that an alleged victim of Jeyapaul stated that she was alone with the priest when he allegedly forced oral sex on he, and that he allegedy threatened to "make her life miserable" if she told anyone.
As a result of the allegations, Jeyapaul said he was not allowed to continue his work in the Minnesota parish. He said he was so distraught on learning of the accusations that his bishop in Ooty told him he should take a year-long course in spirituality so he could reconnect with his religion. After that, he began his current role working in the bishop's office.
Asked why he thought he was being accused if since he claims he is innocent, he said the answer was financial.
"Now I've come to know they are asking money from the diocese," he said. "That's why. That is the motive behind it."
Priest Accused of Abuse in Minnesota Working in India
Jeyapaul said that he has worked for nearly 30 years as a priest and never had accusations against him in India.
Despite global coverage of accusations of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, Jeyapaul said he was unaware of the larger controversy.
The case again raises questions about the handling of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal by Cardinal William J. Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco, who is now in charge of investigating such matters for the Vatican.
Cardinal Levada was notified of the charges against the priest in three letters written by Bishop Victor Balke of Minnesota, beginning in Dec. 2005, according to documents filed in a lawsuit.
In the first letter, Bishop Balke warned that to ignore the case "would be a shameful act of betrayal towards the women and girls in India to whom Fr. Jeyapaul could at present pose a risk."
In a response six months later, on behalf of Cardinal Levada, a deputy made no mention of disciplinary action against the accused priest but said he would "be monitored so that he does not constitute a risk to minors and does not create a scandal among the faithful."
A Vatican spokesperson told the Associated Press that it suggested the priest be defrocked, stripped of his priestly powers, but that his bishop in India refused. The Vatican spokesperson told the AP it was cooperating with U.S. efforts to extradite him to stand trial in Minnesota.
"Cardinal Levada and the Pope himself are and continue to be the source of the problem," said Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who obtained the internal church documents.
"They chose to protect their own reputation at the peril of the children, to keep the secrets, and in this instance to continue this priest in ministry to this day knowing full well that he has raped," said Anderson.
Cardinal Levada last week accused the New York Times and other news media of being in "attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI" over the sex abuse scandal.
Chief Deputy Terry Bandemer of the Roseau County Sheriff's Department said his department would have to depend on other law enforcement agencies to get Jeyapaul out of India.
But Bandemer added that there is no statute of limitations on the crime of which Jeyapaul is accused. "It will be out there for as long as he remains alive," said Bandemer, "and when he's back in the United States he'll have to answer to this warrant."