Rapid City: A Catholic priest from India was arrested on October 2 in Rapid City in South Dakota state of the United States.
Police officials said Father John Praveen was arrested on suspicion that he had sexual contact with a child.
The 38-year-old priest was taken into custody after a joint investigation by Rapid City Police Department and the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, law officers said in a news release.
The law officers said they expect the Pennington County state’s attorney to file two counts of sexual contact with a child under 16, a Class 3 felony with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Father was on temporary duty in the Rapid City Catholic diocese. He uses the name “John Praveen Kumar Itukulapti,” police said.
On September 30, a “juvenile victim came forward to report the incidents,” according to the news release from law enforcement. “The investigation revealed that Praveen made sexual contact with the child on two separate occasions.”
Capt. Corey Brubakken of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office said in the same news release: “This is obviously an ongoing, high-priority investigation. If there is anybody out there that may have information relevant to this investigation, we would encourage them to contact investigator Jesse Fagerland at 394-6115.”
A news release from the diocese said the priest is a member of the Holy Spirit Fathers of India. He has been serving the diocese since November 2017.
“The diocese learned of this allegation from the Rapid City Police Department and the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office on Monday [October 1] evening. The Diocese of Rapid City is fully cooperating with law enforcement in this ongoing investigation. Fr. Praveen has been arrested and will make his first court appearance tomorrow [October 3}. Bishop Robert Gruss has also removed him from all ministry in the Diocese of Rapid City,” said the release issued on October 2.
After arriving from India nearly, Praveen served as priest at All Saints parish in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation until June when he was assigned as assistant pastor at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rapid City, where Bishop Robert Gruss has sat as spiritual pastor of the diocese since 2011.
The diocese includes all of West River region of South Dakota, about 32,000 members in 80 parishes — including St. John the Evangelist in Fort Pierre — served by about 40 priests.
The decreasing number of priests over the past 50 years — the number has been cut in half — means the diocese has brought in priests from other countries to help, diocesan officials say. There are three priests in the diocese from Poland, for example; and Praveen and another priest from India.
In diocesan newsletters, Church officials regularly run notices with information about the diocese’s office for victims of sexual abuse.
The news release from the diocese included: “We encourage anyone who believes they might have had a similar experience to contact the authorities or the Victims Assistance Coordinator (605-209-3418). Our prayers and concerns go out to the young person and the family, and all those who have suffered from any type of abuse.”