Tulsa Diocese officials contact police in Pryor case

Wednesday, August 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Pryor police are now investigating allegations that a 16-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest who has been excommunicated.

The Rev. Michael Knipe, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa, said Tuesday that he met with the girl to discuss allegations that a former priest at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Pryor sexually assaulted her.

``I would call it a sexual assault,'' Knipe said of the girl's allegations. ``What I understood in visiting with her was a believable pattern of escalating events that is consistent with sexual abuse. I found her story very believable and credible.''

Knipe told the Tulsa World he contacted Pryor police and offered to provide information.

According to the girl's accusations, the Rev. John Jangam molested her on several occasions in 1999 when she was 13. Her mother said the family reported the matter to another priest, who then contacted the diocese.

The diocese did not report the allegations to police then and returned Jangam, a foreign priest visiting on a visa, to India. Parishioners were told that Jangam had to leave because his mother was ill and some of them contributed money to pay for his return trip.

Bishop Edward Slattery said Jangam was returned to India because he was excommunicated after revealing what the girl told him during confession.

Diocese officials say they were told initially only that Jangam had tried to hug and kiss the girl.

During a brief meeting at the church last week, parishioners angrily confronted Slattery about how the diocese handled the matter. Slattery said he could not answer questions about the case and left the church, promising another meeting would be held soon.

Knipe said he will represent the diocese in a meeting at St. Mark's Tuesday evening.

Knipe also plans to meet with parishioners in McAlester and other parishes where the Rev. Kenneth Lewis was assigned.

Lewis resigned from St. John's Catholic Church in McAlester last month after a renewed investigation into claims he improperly touched young boys.

Neither Lewis nor Jangam has been charged with a crime. Both have denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, Tulsa police continue to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by two priests, whom they decline to name.

Sgt. Gary Stansill said police expect to turn their investigation over to prosecutors this week or next week.

The diocese is planning a day of prayer for abuse victims, similar to an event held by the Oklahoma City Archdiocese on Wednesday.