Indian priest in Florida accused of obscenity involving a minor.

Last week in Palm Beach, Florida, a Francisican priest from India was arrested for allegedly showing child pornography to a minor. The cleric, Fr. Jose Palimattom, who admitted to police that after Mass one Sunday he had a fourteen-year-old boy delete pornographic images of children from the priest's phone. Palimattom also revealed that back in India his superiors reprimanded him for becoming involved with a minor--but that the incident was not reported to law enforcement. Palimattom's province denies knowing about any such relationship. The Diocese of Palm Beach was told by Palimattom's superior in India that he was a priest in good standing--and that background checks "revealed no prior misconduct," according to a diocesan statement.

On the morning of January 4, Palimattom sent a Facebook message to the boy asking for his assistance with his phone, according to the arrest report. After Mass, Palimattom and the minor walked out the front doors of the church, where the priest handed over his device and told the boy he was having trouble getting rid of some images. What the teenager saw shocked him: about forty thumbnail images of fully exposed preteen boys including the words "little boys" and "young boys 10-18." Yet the boy didn't let on that he was scandalized by the photographs. Later he informed the parish music director, followed by his parents, who immediately phoned the police. Later that night, the boy received a Facebook message from the priest: "Goodnight, sweet dreams." He was arrested the next day.

Palimattom had a two-year appointment at Holy Name of Jesus parish in Palm Beach. According to the arrest report, the pastor of Holy Name told police that after he learned of the incident he contacted the diocese, which in turn contacted law enforcement--and suspended the priest. Then the pastor confronted Palimattom, who admitted showing child pornography to the teenager. But that wasn't all he admitted. Palimattom also disclosed that in India he had had a relationship with a minor, and that his Franciscan superiors reprimanded him for it but failed to inform the local authorities.

The claim that Palimattom's "superiors in India reprimanded him for being involved with a boy is not true to the best of our knowledge," according to a spokesperson for the Franciscan Province of St. Thomas the Apostle in India. "We do not condone such behaviors but condemn them," he continued. "If the allegations are proved beyond reasonable doubt, then disciplinary actions will be initiated." The spokesman also quoted the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights on presumed innocence.

After arriving at Holy Name parish, Palimattom was instructed by the pastor not to use Facebook and not to have unsupervised contact with minors, according to the arrest report. As part of its "safe environment" training, the Diocese of Palm Beach advises that adults avoid spending time with minors in a secluded area without another adult present. It also provides tips for appropriate online interactions with minors. "I surmise these are the guidelines that the parish pastor gave to Fr. Palimattom to familiarize him with our diocese," according to Dianne Laubert, spokeswoman for the diocese.

Palimattom flouted those restrictions, according to the police report. He admitted to viewing child pornography, but only as a "curiosity." He denied sexually molesting a minor. He explained that he asked the fourteen-year-old parishioner to remove the files in question because he realized it was wrong to have them, and that he had already sought forgiveness in confession. Did he realize the person he was asking for assistance was only fourteen? Yes, he told police. But the boy was so mature that the cleric viewed him as an adult. So why not ask an actual adult for assistance, or Google "how to delete unwanted files"? "He hadn't thought of that at the time," according to the report. "When questioned about his inappropriately touching [the teenager] while in the presence of the victim's mother," the report contines, "he advised he had leaned his head on the victim's shoulder as a friendly gesture."

Over the weekend, Palimattom posted bail. The diocese does not know who paid for his release.

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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