Belief Beat

The Catholic Church’s clergy sex abuse scandal has hit a new country: India.

The Associated Press and The New York Times report that while working in a Minnesota diocese five years ago, the Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul allegedly molested two teenage girls. Jeyapaul denies committing the crimes, but also refuses to return to America to face charges; his bishop has allowed him to continue serving as a priest.

From the NYT:

The case was handled after the Vatican clarified and streamlined its procedures in 2001 to respond to accusations of sexual abuse by priests. In the midst of a growing scandal, the Vatican has sought to defend the pope by pointing out that he was both an architect and a promoter of these procedures.

But the Vatican also says it defers to local bishops to decide how to treat accused priests, leaving it exposed to criticism that the church is not doing enough to rein in sexually abusive priests..

In 2006, the Vatican recommended that the priest simply be monitored, a document shows. A lawyer for the Holy See said in a statement that the Vatican had recommended that the priest be defrocked, but that canon law specifies that the decision rests with the local bishop. The bishop in India sentenced the priest to a year of prayer in a monastery rather than seeking his removal from the priesthood, according to documents and interviews.

Along with adding India’s Catholic Church to the scandal roster, the fact that these alleged victims were female, that their accusations took place during Pope Benedict’s papacy (not decades earlier) and were reported to secular authorities (who are trying to get Jeyapaul extradited) make this story unique among the Pope Watch news I’ve reported lately. It also stands out as a situation where even the Vatican wanted to defrock an accused priest, yet he continued serving — raising more questions about the effectiveness of the pope’s in-house disciplinary measures.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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