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Did Vatican protect another tainted Indian priest?

By George Joseph
April 20, 2010 03:18 IST
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An Indian priest who pleaded no contest to assaulting a Florida teen is serving in Italy and could have benefitted from the Vatican's leniency, two Minnesota attorneys working on the clerical abuse in the Catholic church have alleged.
Attorneys Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan said a Florida family's plea to Pope Benedict XVI to hold Father Vijaya Bhaskar Godugunuru, 41, accountable for the June 2006 sexual abuse of their daughter went unanswered. Earlier, the attorneys released documents accusing Father Joseph Palanivel Jeyapual, who now serves in the Udhagamandalam diocese in Tamil Nadu, of molesting two girls in Minnesota in 2004. No action was taken against him despite the Minnesota bishop writing to the Vatican.

Unlike Jeyapaul, who left before the filing of cases against him in 2005, Godugunuru was arrested and tried. The family filed a civil case against the Pensacola-Tallahassee diocese. The civil case was since settled, Finnegan said. Godugunuru was ordained a priest in the Cuddapah diocese, Andhra Pradesh, in 1998. In 2006, he arrived in Bonifay, Florida. The alleged incident occurred June 23, 2006. Holmes County Police charged him 'with lewd and lascivious battery', a second degree felony, for 'sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older, but less than 16 years of age.' Her mother wrote to Pope Benedict XVI, but got no response.

In early 2007 Godugunuru pleaded no contest to the aggravated assault, a third degree felony. As per the agreement, he was required to return to India, undergo counseling, and not have a leadership role over minors for a year.
The bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee wrote to the Vatican's congregation of the doctrine of faith and provided them with information on Godugunuru. But his name is currently listed on the diocese of Montepulicano-Chiusi-Pienza Web site on the clergy roster as being at Nome di Maria in Querce al Pino, Italy. (The roster was last updated May 8, 2009)

"The Vatican was involved in this case much in the same way as the Jeyapaul case--allowing the priest to work in the parish despite reported abuse," Finnegan said.

The priest was convicted, punished, and left the country. The civil suit was also settled. Asked then what difference it makes if the priest is in Italy or India now, Finnegan said: "I strongly believe in protecting our children from sexual abuse. Child sex abusers have some of, if not, the highest rates of recidivism among criminals. What I have seen is that child molesters will continue to molest kids if they are given access to them. I am very alarmed that this priest is still being allowed access to kids, most of whom probably know nothing of his criminal conviction."

"I have no problem with anyone including the church officials who want to forgive Vijay, but if they allow him to have access to kids I am and will remain very scared for those children," he said."The Catholic church does not look at priest abuse incidents lightly," said Mar Jacob Angadiath, bishop, St Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic diocese based in Chicago. "The church's stand in abuse incidents is clear. The church will not tolerate any abuses and will report such incidents to the civil authorities," he said.
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