Fugitive Indian ex-priest in Chicago child sex case to remain free

Prosecutors in Chicago's Cook County have decided to give up their decade-long effort to extradite a priest who had fled to India. The Rev. Sleeva Raju Policetti, who was charged with sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl, maintains he is innocent and now the victim has decided not to pursue the case anymore.

New York Daily News/May 1, 2012

Cook County prosecutors say they are ending their decade-long effort to extradite a Roman Catholic priest who fled to India shortly before he was charged with 20 counts of criminal sexual assault and abuse of a 16-year-old Chicago girl.

The Rev. Sleeva Raju Policetti has maintained his innocence since abruptly leaving Chicago in 2002, and in India he has waged a protracted court battle against efforts to extradite him to Chicago to face trial.

Policetti's alleged victim initially worked with authorities, setting in motion an international extradition that required the approval of top officials from the U.S. State and Justice departments and India's Ministry of External Affairs.

But in recent days she told First Assistant State's Attorney Shauna Boliker that she no longer wished to pursue the case, effectively forcing prosecutors to drop it.

"With any case, our victims' wishes, No. 1, are foremost in our minds," Boliker said Monday. "We need her cooperation and participation. ... This is a decade later and a different time of her life."

In coming days the state's attorney's office will notify the Justice Department that it is withdrawing arrest warrants for Policetti in Chicago and India, Boliker said.

The collapse of the case offers an example of how an opaque and slow-moving international extradition system can derail justice, leaving suspects accused of serious crimes free when they find haven in foreign lands.

Similar years-long delays have undermined other international fugitive manhunts, the Tribune found in an examination of more than 100 cases from the Chicago area and thousands of others nationwide. In some instances, witnesses died or disappeared, making the cases impossible to prosecute.

Policetti, now 53, could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. The assaults allegedly took place over a year in the rectory of St. Tarcissus' Parish on Chicago's Northwest Side, where Policetti was assigned as an extern priest.

He is one of at least 32 Roman Catholic priests nationwide since 1985 who have absconded to foreign countries while facing criminal charges or investigations related to allegations that they sexually assaulted or abused youths in the U.S., the Tribune investigation found. Only five have been returned to face trial.

More than two dozen other Catholic clergy members went abroad or were transferred to foreign countries by church authorities while facing internal church inquiries or civil allegations of child sex misconduct, the Tribune found.

In March, fugitive priest Joseph Jeyapaul was arrested in India after seven years on the run from charges that he sexually assaulted a 14-year-old Minnesota girl. That arrest came roughly a week after Jeyapaul's case was highlighted by the Tribune. Jeyapaul is still in India and resisting extradition in court, according to attorneys involved in the case.

Like Jeyapaul and many other international fugitives traced by the Tribune as part of its "Fugitives From Justice" investigation, Policetti returned to his hometown near Hyderabad in southern India and did little to conceal his identity or whereabouts.

Though the Tribune found that an initial two-day delay by the Chicago Archdiocese in reporting the child sex assault allegation may have given Policetti time to plan his escape, records also show that top church officials here and in India pressed hard for Policetti's return and expressed fury at his alleged crimes and his continued ability to evade justice.

In 2008, after a canonical trial, the Vatican took the rare and severe step of defrocking Policetti over the sexual assault allegations, meaning he is no longer a priest. Still, Policetti continued to use the title of "Reverend," and as recently as 2010, he sent Chicago parishioners greeting cards soliciting donations, saying he ran an orphanage and school near Hyderabad, the Tribune found. Priests also sometimes call him to fill in at church functions, Policetti said in an interview from New Delhi published in March.

The archdiocese reached an out-of-court settlement with Policetti's alleged victim, a person with knowledge of the case confirmed. The church declined to disclose details out of respect for her privacy. An attorney for the alleged victim did not respond to requests for comment.

"From the outset, the Archdiocese of Chicago has supported and cooperated with efforts by the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County state's attorneys to bring this case to justice," saidJohn O'Malley, legal services director for the archdiocese.

"Those of us at the archdiocese who are involved in reporting abuse and dealing with its tragic consequences respect the judgment of the victim/survivor about final disposition, including prosecution," he said. "The archdiocese continues to reach out and work for the healing of all those affected by the tragedy of child and adolescent sexual abuse."

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