Catholic priest remains behind bars on criminal sex charge - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Catholic priest remains behind bars on criminal sex charge

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Father Leo Koppala Father Leo Koppala

BLUE EARTH, Minn. (KTTC) -- A Roman Catholic priest remains behind bars in Blue Earth after an appearance Monday afternoon in which he was advised of his rights.

Father Leo Koppala, 47, is charged with second degree criminal sexual conduct after an alleged fondling incident involving a 12-year-old girl in the basement of one of his parishioners.

Bond has been set at $75,000 for Fr. Koppala, who is a native of India.  As of late Monday, he had not posted bail and remained in the Faribault County Jail.

Fr. Koppala has been serving at Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Blue Earth for nearly four years.  After arriving in the U.S. from the Diocese of Dellore, India back in October of 2008, he had served in the Resurrection R.C. parish in Rochester until July 31, 2009.  After his arrest last week, the Diocese of Winona placed Fr. Koppala on administrative leave pending the resolution of the criminal charge.

"He asked for a bail reduction," said County Attorney Troy Timmerman.  "The state opposed that request.  The judge ordered a bail study to determine if a reduction or release is appropriate."

An omnibus hearing has been scheduled for 10 a.m. on July 8, at which time Fr. Koppala can contest the charge against him.

According to the criminal complaint against Fr. Koppala, the priest had been invited for supper to a home in Blue Earth the evening of June 7th.  The 12-year-old girl was visiting for the weekend, and at one point, went to the basement to watch TV; when the adult in the home was on the phone, the priest went to the basement and pulled the girl up to where he was sitting.  The complaint alleges that the priest kissed her "on the cheeks and lips" then controlled her with his hands, moving his hand to touch her breasts.  Fr. Koppala allegedly suggested that the girl come to his house after school "so they could be free together." He also told her that he loved her.

Police Chief Tom Fletcher interviewed the priest later, and says Fr. Koppala admitted going to the basement, kissing the girl on the cheeks and mouth, and placing his hand on her chest.  But the priest said he does not believe that he touched her breasts, and said he meant something different with the suggestion that they could be "free together."

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