This week yet another Minnesota priest was arrested for sexually abusing a child. Father Leo Charles Koppala, of Blue Earth, Minnesota, has been charged with the sexual abuse of an 11-year old girl. Father Koppala is a priest at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. His arrest is a stark reminder of the continued vulnerability of our youth to child predators, including clergy.
American Catholic Bishops are fond of categorizing the sexual abuse of children by clergy as a historic problem. The much-criticized 2011 John Jay Report commissioned by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops takes this position. But the crimes of Fr. Koppala and St. Paul priest, Father Curtis Wehmeyer believe this stance.
At the moment, according to the Bishop of Winona, Fr. Koppala is on administrative leave. The priest is not allowed to live on parish property or conduct ministry. The Bishop represented that there were no previous abuse allegations regarding Fr. Koppala.
But local history begs the question of whether this response is geniune. Koppala stirs echoes of the infamous Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul, also a native of India, who served as a priest in the Diocese of Crookston in 2004-2005. We believe that after information surfaced implicating Fr. Jeyapaul as a child predator, he was allowed to take a trip home to India under false pretenses. Jeyapaul never returned. Despite a criminal investigation in Minnesota, Jeyapaul continued to serve as a priest in India. In March 2012, Jeyapaul was charged but because of difficulties with extradition he is still believed to be in India. Right now, Fr. Koppala is currently in jail, and, effectively beyond the church’s protection. If released, will the Diocese permit him to flee to India like Jeyapaul?
Jeffrey R. Anderson is an attorney and advocate working with survivors of clergy sexual abuse at Jeff Anderson & Associates.