A former Rapid City priest admitted in state court Tuesday to sexually touching a 13-year-old girl last year.
John Praveen, 38, pleaded guilty to one count of having sexual contact with a child under the age of 16. He said he touched the girl's breasts above her clothes in Rapid City on Sept. 28 in order to create sexual gratification.
As part of the plea deal, the prosecution will drop another count that alleged that Praveen engaged in sexual contact with the girl on Sept. 3, said John Murphy, Praveen's lawyer. Praveen has agreed not to ask for a suspended imposition of sentence, which, if granted, would erase his conviction from the public.
The prosecution has also agreed to ask Praveen to be sentenced to local jail time and probation, not prison, Murphy said. People can be sentenced to jail for up to a year.
Judge Robert Mandel warned Praveen that he has the right to sentence him up to 15 years in prison for his crime, and if he deviates from the prosecution's recommendation, Praveen can't take back his plea deal.
Mandel also said that Praveen's visa may be impacted by the guilty plea, and he could be deported back to India, where he is from.
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"This kind of abuse by a member of the clergy or anyone is unconscionable and should never happen," the Diocese of Rapid City said in an emailed statement. "We remain deeply saddened by these events. The diocese will continue to offer our assistance to the victim and the victim’s family. We are grateful that the legal process has led to this revelation of the truth. Our hope is that this decision and the subsequent sentencing will begin the process of healing for all those involved. We will continue to pray for the victim, the victim’s family, and for all victims of sexual abuse as well as for Father Praveen."
The future of Praveen's roles and responsibilities as a priest will be determined by his order in India, Father Michel Mulloy, vicar general of the diocese, said after the sentencing.
Mulloy said that while priests are ordained for life, they can be laicized, which means they are removed from all duties.
Praveen joined the Diocese of Rapid City for a 10-year assignment in December 2017 and first worked in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe reservation. In June 2018, Praveen transferred to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and worked there until he was arrested and charged Oct. 2 2018.
Praveen, who remains in jail, is scheduled to be sentenced at 9 a.m. on April 4.