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Indian priest charged with pedophilia

By Arthur J. Pais in New York
June 08, 2004 15:02 IST
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As the 62-year-old priest Simon Palanthingal, charged with four counts of sexual assault on a 9-year-old boy over a decade ago, awaits an extradition hearing from New Jersey to Wisconsin, the American Catholic Church, devastated by hundreds of sexual abuse cases, faces yet another embarrassing revelation.

Palanthingal, who earned a master's degree in journalism from Marquette University, Wisconsin,  allegedly assaulted the boy Nick Janovsky who was also being abused at the same time by another priest --- Nick Janovsky's uncle Dennis Pecore.

Janovsky, 23, told a Milwaukee, Wisconsin newspaper late last week that Pecore, who had already been convicted and was on sex abuse probation in another case, had begun molesting him (Nick) during the probation. Pecore was later sentenced to 12 years in prison for molesting Janovsky.  Palanthingal, who was introduced to the young Janovsky by Pecore, allegedly assaulted the boy without the knowledge of the uncle.  

If found guilty,  Palanthingal who belongs to the Selesian Order of Don Bosco in India which known for its educational institutions for boys across the country including St. Bedes and Don Bosco in Chennai, faces maximum 20 years on each of the four counts he has been charged with. He is being held on a $1 million bail, with the authorities saying that he is a flight risk and could attempt to return to India.

The alleged abuse began in the summer of 1990, shortly after the victim's ninth birthday, and continued until June 1991. It took place at Jordan House, a Milwaukee residence for priests.

Milwaukee, a city of the descendants of German and  Polish Catholics, has welcomed many Indian priests to the journalism program at Marquette, a Jesuit institution.  The victim, according to the complaint, "reported that the defendant told him not to tell anyone about these sexual acts because it was 'between us' and 'our secret.' "

Janovsky, whose family moved to a southern state many years ago, says while he was aware of his uncle's conviction, he had assumed that Palanthingal might have been prosecuted too. He began to check on Palanthingal following the on-going revelations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.    

In the past five years, the Church had been forced, in the face of vociferous and persist complaints from the victims and their families, to own up the sexual misbehavior of scores of priests and shell out nearly $1 billion in compensation. The church had been importing hundreds of priests from India and the Philippines in the 1980s following an acute shortage of priests across America especially in small cities and rural pockets and the dramatic decline in the numbers of Americans studying to be priests.

The Catholic priests from India were arriving in America in significant numbers --- along with Indian nurses --- much before the Silicon Valley and America's IT industry discovered it too faced shortage of tech engineers and workers.

Palanthingal earned his master's degree in journalism from Marquette University, one of the few American schools that offers a full course in religious journalism. Many American bishops send their priests to replenish their journalistic skills or acquire new ones at Marquette so that they could run church publications and TV network.  

Palanthingal, who served with the  Diocese of Metuchen in New Jersey since late 2001, has also served at a number of American dioceses. He  was on arrested Thursday in the presence of Milwaukee detectives who were waiting outside his home for him to arrive from a business trip to another American city.

Described by many parishioners, most of who are middle class and immigrants from Central and South America, as a helpful and inspiring priest, Palanthingal had applied to become a full-time diocesan priest. As Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski, head of the Diocese of Metuchen, terminated that application on Friday and revoked Palathingal's right to minister in the diocese, he accused the priest of withholding crucial information from the higher authorities.

"While Father Palathingal apparently knew of this allegation when it first surfaced over a decade ago, the Diocese of Metuchen first became aware of the allegation this morning when it was notified of his arrest," the bishop said in a statement. 

"In light of these events, and the fact that when he applied to work in the diocese he affirmed that on no occasion has his behavior ever called into question his ability to associate with minors, Father Palathingal's faculties to minister in the Diocese of Metuchen have been revoked," the statement added. 

Bootkoski's office also  asked anyone with knowledge of alleged criminal activity involving Palathingal to contact the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office at (732) 745-3300. 


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Arthur J. Pais in New York