Letter released by mother detailing the impact of Praveen’s actions
RAPID CITY, S.D. — It was an emotional day in court for those involved in the case of John Praveen, a Catholic Priest in the Rapid City Diocese who had sexual contact with a 13-year-girl.
On Friday Praveen, 38, was sentenced to 6 years in prison, with the possibility of parole after 3 years.
Praveen’s defense recommended only 180 days in jail, and the state’s attorney recommended only a year. In response, Judge Robert Mandel said that he felt the crime was too heinous for those recommendations, and sentenced Praveen to 6 years.
During the hearing both Praveen and the family were emotional.
A letter written by the victim’s mother details the pain caused by the ordeal. She writes that Praveen’s “actions distorted her (the victim’s) view of God, her thoughts of how God views her, her faith life, and her views of the credibility of the Church itself. From now on she will have to actively work against the lies he taught her with his actions that night in the Cathedral.”
The letter also describes the immense guilt and helplessness felt by the victim’s brother, who was present and tried to protect his sister in the Cathedral basement the night of the assault.
Praveen fought back tears during his apology to the family. Adding to the distress, an interpreter was needed throughout the case to bridge the language barrier for Praveen, who is originally from India.
Throughout the case, both the defense and prosecutors said they felt that the Catholic church did not handle the situation well — and paid more attention to salvaging its public image than protecting and healing the individuals involved.
According to the victim’s mother, “We suffered a profound sense of abandonment by our Church for several months due to lack of outreach, lack of response to our expressed needs for her, lack of fervor in solving the problems and improving procedures. We looked to our Church for comfort, correction of the lies his actions taught her and direct care of her soul. Unfortunately, despite nice public statements of ministering and care, that was not her experience … His superiors and local church leaders have not indicated any will to remove him from the priesthood and have not indicated to us that they will advocate remotely for his removal.”
Praveen’s defense claimed that nobody visited Praveen for months, and when two priests finally did see him, they were accompanied by someone from the Washington Post and it was simply a PR move.
Praveen says he was also offered places to stay by the church after he was released on parole, but that those offers were quickly revoked after an outpouring of public outrage. The church used him as “a pawn,” the defense argued, basing every decision off of how it played out publicly.
In November, the Diocese of Rapid City released a statement that it had reached out to the victim and her family through its Victim Assistance Coordinator, and that it was working to be transparent and responsive to concerns in the community throughout the process.
The full letter written by the victim’s mother and read at the hearing is shared below.
Thank you for the opportunity to share with you how John Praveen’s actions have affected our family. The effects are broad in scope and will extend through time. Our daughter did not give permission to share all of her private struggles so we are sharing only a few of them and what our family has experienced. It’s difficult to explain the damage done to the mind and future potential of our daughter, the ir-erasable memories and life-long effects that the choices of John Praveen have caused. Our daughter and our family have suffered significant emotional, physical, social and spiritual fall out from his crimes. His actions have affected not only our family but many others.
Our daughter was at the very tender age of 13 when this occurred, just beginning a new school year with much anticipation. He attacked her at the time in development where her understanding of personal dignity, value and worth were being developed. His actions have affected her views of her personal value, her personal voice, and how men value her. When she says no…should anyone listen? His actions distorted her view of God, her thoughts of how God views her, her faith life, and her views of the credibility of the Church itself. From now on she will have to actively work against the lies he taught her with his actions that night in the Cathedral. She will have to acknowledge and address these life altering questions and thoughts. His attack was not only on her body, but her soul, dignity, emotional development and sexuality.
Knowing he was well informed and knew what he was doing has caused great grief and a sense of betrayal. Catholic priests spend years studying and preparing to become priests. He laid before an Altar of the Lord and was consecrated (set apart) for God’s service, to bring the Gospel to people, to be a good shepherd, to administer the Sacraments (outward sign of God’s love) as well as to be an instrument of healing, hope and love. Where and when he perpetrated the crimes adds to our horror and his culpability. The count he has plead guilty to occurred in the Cathedral, at a public Saint Padre Pio relic event, he had just finished Mass, and was wearing his clerics. He had every outward and inward reminder of who he was and what his responsibility was, yet he chose deliberately to selfishly pleasure himself assaulting her. As her mom I am haunted by her words describing profound fear, fear so bad she left her body on two occasions, one of them being when he solicited her in the Confessional. The Confessional is place of reconciliation that requires the utmost trust of the priest and respect of the penitent. I struggle to sleep due to so many memories of her descriptions of how she got away from him, ran and hid, only to have him hunt her down finding her hiding spot and bringing her back for more. Her description of his erect body and kissing of her neck and face while she couldn’t move her arms. Her describing how she plead for him to stop and appealed to his priesthood to no avail, all keeps me awake at night, grieving everything she experienced. As a priest he would be well aware of the Catholic view of the dignity of the body. We are a body/soul, each person’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit to be respected as God’s unique creation, each one precious and never to be repeated. An attack on the body is an attack on the soul as well. Our Catholic faith teaches clearly about the precious gift of sexuality and its sacred role in marriage. He maligned her image of that leaving her with real wounds, invisible to the world, with the potential to affect important life decisions and multiple generations. His training as a priest requires understanding all of this and he knew exactly what he was doing.
She is not the only victim of his attack on her. His actions have victimized our family, the priesthood, our Church, Church unity and the dignity and credibility of all of his brother priests. Our pain for her and grief over this betrayal and all that it says as a Catholic priest stretches through our family, her best friends, extended family, very good friends, good and holy priests, to all who are familiar with her, our Church community and to all the other victims who have never seen any justice but read about yet another case in the paper.
As a result of this experience, our oldest daughter has indicated she will never return to the faith. Our son who attempted to protect our daughter in the Cathedral basement that night, suffered guilt and a sense of helplessness. Our family has been isolated from family members as they can’t understand why we would attempt to persevere in faith after a priest sexually molested our daughter. We suffered a profound sense of abandonment by our Church for several months due to lack of outreach, lack of response to our expressed needs for her, lack of fervor in solving the problems and improving procedures. We looked to our Church for comfort, correction of the lies his actions taught her and direct care of her soul. Unfortunately, despite nice public statements of ministering and care, that was not her experience. We watched our daughter’s fears realized when John Praveen was let out of jail and housed up the hill from us. In her young mind he was very very close to us. It still breaks my heart to remember the look on her face when I had to tell her he was being bailed out and that it was possibly by the Bishop and parishioners. The betrayal, shock, sadness and confusion she expressed was more than any child should have to experience. She was extremely relieved to find him back in jail later. The social and spiritual fall out from this has been extreme and will take significant time to heal.
John Praveen’s crimes unleashed all of this dysfunction creating an atmosphere of confusion, pain and distrust that is severely affecting our faith, hope and love of our church. Jesus and His teachings remain the same but the human element of our Church is now a source of pain needing to be worked out and healed. Events that were once highly anticipated, enriching and enjoyed are now sources of anxiety, worry and dread. His solicitation of her in the Confessional has impacted her ability to practice her faith, leaving the confessional a place of dangerous vulnerability, limiting her ability to participate fully in the Sacramental life of the Church.
We fear that once he serves his sentence he will return to India to no consequence. She on the other hand is at the mercy of whatever triggers her, always having to be vigilant and actively dealing with whatever that brings. This will affect her at every major life event, first boyfriend, engagement, marriage and especially first baby. I know my daughter very well, and she is a very tender hearted, kind, loving, gentle and nurturing girl. I have an ache and deep fear that her being a naturally very maternal girl, when she holds her first baby and is moved by the overwhelming realization of the child’s vulnerability and her incredible responsibility to protect and care for them, she will certainly come to a new more profound understanding of what happened to her and have to reprocess all that it entails. Fear for her future persists as these memories strike to her heart and eternal soul, intermingled with her identity and faith. She is no longer free to just grow up and deal with the normal difficulties associated with life, she has an added burden and its mixed with her faith, potentially affecting her eternal disposition. His superiors and local church leaders have not indicated any will to remove him from the priesthood and have not indicated to us that they will advocate remotely for his removal. It appears to us that no other authority will take action against his crimes. Considering that he will be allowed to continue on as before causes our daughter, family, and community high levels of anxiety for the safety of other children. This may be John Praveen’s only opportunity to receive a just punishment that is uncomfortable enough to call him to personal responsibility, repentance, forgiveness and ultimately healing, which we do hope for him.
We all are very deeply thankful for the justice system showing her publicly that she did not deserve what happened and his actions deserve a punishment. The punishment is for both of their benefit. She needs public affirmation that his actions were a crime and very wrong, and he needs an authentic opportunity for repentance and healing. Thank you for this opportunity to share how his actions have effected and will continue to affect everyday life. We ask for a rigorous sentence based upon the gravity, broad scope, intermingling of faith, and lifelong effects our daughter is facing.