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Extradition Sought for Fugitive Priest

Los Angeles

May 22, 2002|RICHARD WINTON and BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Glendale police have asked the district attorney's office to seek the extradition of a fugitive priest from Sri Lanka, 11 years after the man was charged with sexually abusing a teenage boy, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Father Tilak Jayawardene is believed to have returned to his native Sri Lanka after he was asked to surrender to police in December 1990, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said he recently wrote to church officials in Sri Lanka, requesting that they return the priest to Los Angeles. The cardinal said he wrote the letter after Glendale police spoke to archdiocese officials about the case.

Mahony said he also sent a copy of the letter to the Vatican. He said Jayawardene's case illustrates how the sexual abuse of minors by priests is a worldwide problem.

Barbara Moore, chief of the district attorney's extradition unit, said Glendale police made the request to extradite the priest May 9, after a reporter from The Times questioned police about their efforts to locate the fugitive.

Glendale Police Sgt. Kim Lardie said she could not comment on the department's investigation.

Jayawardene, who was ordained in Sri Lanka, had worked at Incarnation Church in Glendale as associate pastor from 1987 to December 1990, when he disappeared amid a police investigation.

In January 1991, he was charged with six counts of oral copulation involving a 17-year-old boy. The alleged incidents occurred in 1990 between Oct. 23 and Nov. 5. Five of the alleged acts occurred in the priest's bedroom at the Glendale Incarnation Church rectory, and the sixth allegedly took place in the youth's home, prosecutors said.

The alleged victim, who reported the allegations to a teacher and another priest, was working at the church and wanted to attend seminary, prosecutors said.

Moore said a specially assigned prosecutor is reviewing the extradition request, which is likely to be approved. "Sri Lanka signed a new extradition treaty with the United States in 1999," she said.

Jayawardene disappeared after a police detective spoke to his attorney in December 1990, officials said. The detective told the attorney there was probable cause for an arrest and urged the priest to surrender, officials said.

Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said local church officials do not know the priest's whereabouts. He said the archdiocese knows of no other victims.

Father Gregory Coiro, a former archdiocese spokesman, said in 1991 that Jayawardene had "opted to leave the country.... Because he did not belong to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, there was nothing the archdiocese could do to make him stay."

Archdiocese officials said Jayawardene was considered a "guest priest" and remained under the authority of church officials in his native land.

"He was supposedly ordered to return to Sri Lanka by a bishop for his religious order," said Mark Collier, a deputy district attorney who was assigned the case at the time.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles had informed Jayawardene's order of the allegations, Collier said.

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