Arrest warrant names priest

Cleric accused in sex assault fled to India

Chicago Tribune/May 22, 2002
By Todd Lighty

Chicago police have obtained a warrant for the arrest of a Roman Catholic priest who fled the country earlier this month while being investigated for allegedly sexually assaulting a teenage girl.

Detectives are working with church and federal authorities to locate the priest and return him to the U.S., said Patrick Camden, spokesman for the Chicago Police Department.

Rev. Sleeva Raju Policetti, 43, who was ordained in Hyderabad, India, abruptly left the United States and returned to India before police could question him.

Camden said Tuesday that authorities obtained a warrant charging Policetti with criminal sexual assault and also were in the process of obtaining a federal warrant accusing the priest of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

The warrant marks the first time since 1993 that a priest has been charged with sexual misconduct involving a child in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

If located, Policetti could be extradited to the U.S., Camden said.

Officials declined to provide the age of the girl or to say whether she was a parishioner at St. Tarcissus Parish, 6020 W. Ardmore Ave., where Policetti had been an associate pastor since 1996.

On May 4, St. Tarcissus' pastor learned that Policetti allegedly had an "inappropriate relationship" with a teenage girl and immediately notified Archdiocese of Chicago officials. The archdiocese, as required under its sexual-abuse policy, informed the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County state's attorney's office, which in turn notified Chicago police.

Policetti, known to his parishioners as Father Raju, apparently learned of the criminal investigation and left a note at the parish saying he was leaving the country.

"We went to the airport and missed his plane by about two hours," Camden said.

In the meantime, church authorities here have remained in contact with Policetti's archbishop in Hyderabad, said James Dwyer, spokesman for the Chicago archdiocese.

"The archbishop said he would tell him to get back here," Dwyer said.

Officials with the Indian Embassy in Washington did not return telephone messages.

Since implementing a sexual-misconduct policy in 1992, the archdiocese has reported to civil authorities a dozen cases of priests allegedly molesting children. Prosecutors filed charges in two cases, with the most recent being the May 1993 arrest of Rev. Ralph Strand, according to church officials.

Strand pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy and was sentenced in 1995 to 4 years in prison. Strand is still a priest in the archdiocese but is not involved in public ministry.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.