Ord priest in court on sexual assault charge

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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - An Ord priest charged with sexual assault was in court for the first time Wednesday.

Fr. John Kakkuzhiyil has been charged with first degree sexual assault on an Ord woman. The assault allegedly happened in late November. Kakkuzhiyil was in Valley County Court Wednesday morning. A judge set a preliminary hearing for January 23rd.

At a preliminary hearing, prosecutors present some of the evidence of a case to a judge. The judge then determines whether there is probable cause that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed that crime. If the judge determines probable cause, the felony case is then transferred to district court for possible trial.
If found guilty on the felony sexual assault charge, Kakkuzhiyil could get up to 50 years in prison.

He was arrested in early January after a month-long investigation by the state patrol into a claim by an Ord woman who said the priest raped her at his home in late November. Court records indicate that the woman also claims Kakkuzhiyil gave her a couple of drinks beforehand, that she blacked out, and when she awoke she was naked and the priest was performing a sex act.

Up until late last year, Kakkuzhiyil was parish priest in Ord and Burwell.

In a statement, Grand Island Diocese Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt said he informed parishioners in Ord and Burwell December First that the priest was struggling with alcoholism and depression.

On December 6th, Kakkuzhiyil entered a drug and alcohol treatment program at CHI Health St. Francis in Grand Island. Hanefeldt put Kakkuzhiyil on administrative leave December 15th when the bishop learned that the State Patrol was investigating the priest. Kakkuzhiyil was dismissed from the treatment program on Wednesday, January 2nd. Hanefeldt then learned that the priest had been arrested by the State Patrol.

This is the full statement from the Grand Island Diocese:

"Bishop Hanefeldt has learned today, January 2, 2019, that Fr. John Kakkuzhiyil, a priest of the Diocese of Grand Island, has been placed under arrest by the Nebraska State Patrol in Grand Island and charged with first-degree sexual assault of an adult.

Most recently Fr. Kakkuzhiyil served as pastor of our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Ord and Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Burwell. On December 1, 2018, Bishop Hanefeldt offered Mass in Ord and Burwell asking the parishioners to pray for Father Kakkuzhiyil for his continuing struggles with depression and alcoholism.

On December 6, 2018 Fr. Kakkuzhiyil entered the CHI St. Francis Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program and was dismissed from there on January 2, 2019.

When Bishop Hanefeldt learned there was an ongoing investigation by the Nebraska State Patrol regarding Fr. Kakkuzhiyil, he placed Fr. Kakkuzhiyil on administrative leave December 15, 2018. Pending the outcome of the investigation and treatment, the administrative leave remains in effect.

Bishop Hanefeldt asks for your prayers for all who are involved in this matter and in the investigation."

Court records indicate that a Valley County District Judge issued a protection order against Kakkuzhiyil after the woman reported the sexual assault.

Kakkuzhiyil is being held on $150,000 bond.