A Roman Catholic priest who fled Chicago for his native India amid charges of sexually abusing a minor at his Northwest Side parish has been arrested by Indian police.
The Rev. Sleeva Raju Policetti, 44, was arrested May 22 in Hyderabad, India, an FBI spokesman said Wednesday. Policetti, known at St. Tarcissus parish on West Ardmore as “Father Raju,” is awaiting an extradition hearing in India before he can be returned to Chicago.
Policetti left Chicago in early May 2002 after the Archdiocese of Chicago called the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services about an allegation of sexual misconduct involving the priest and a teenage girl at the parish. Policetti was ordained in India and had been on loan in the Chicago archdiocese, serving as an associate pastor at St. Tarcissus for six years.
Cook County prosecutors have charged Policetti with sexually assaulting a minor. He also faces federal charges of fleeing the country to avoid prosecution.
Little is known about what Policetti has been doing since his return to India.
In the year since Policetti fled and the Rev. Daniel McCarthy had to break the news of his alleged abuse to parishioners of St. Tarcissus over a Mother’s Day weekend, McCarthy had heard only that “Father Raju” had been “lying low,” he said.
News of the popular priest’s arrest and impending extradition back to Chicago is opening painful wounds that had just begun to heal at the Norwood Park parish, which has about 5,000 members, McCarthy said.
“I’m torn. I’m glad that justice will be done very glad–but torn,” he said. “It was definitely the most painful thing for me in 36 years as a priest and definitely painful for the people at St. Tarcissus in general. We’ve come a long way getting beyond it now.”
Students at St. Tarcissus’ grade school, where classes adjourn for the summer on Friday, had not yet been told about the arrest of “Father Raju,” McCarthy said. A letter will be sent to parents by week’s end, he said.
Jim Dwyer, spokesman for Cardinal Francis George, who is visiting Sweden this week, said authorities informed the archdiocese of Policetti’s arrest more than a week ago. “He will never have [priestly] faculties in the Archdiocese of Chicago again,” Dwyer said, adding that his bishop in India officially has removed the priest from ministry.
Last May, George wrote the Hyderabad bishop requesting that Policetti be sent back to Chicago if he turned up.
What would McCarthy say to Policetti if he had the chance to talk to him again? “I don’t think you could print it,” McCarthy said. “I’m very angry because of what he did to the priesthood that I love, and what he did to the parish that I love, let alone the victim and the victim’s family. The pain was obviously great with the victim and the victim’s family. But the pain was much wider, much wider than that. You’ve got little kids saying, ‘Father Raju used to be my friend.’