Priest involved in sex case has left job in Italy

ROME (AP) — An Indian priest who pleaded no contest to assaulting a 15-year-old girl in Florida and was found by an Associated Press investigation to be posted in Italy has given up his job at the Italian church, officials said Saturday.

The Rev. Vijay Vhaskr Godugunuru was serving as deputy parish priest in Sarteano, a town of about 4,000 in Tuscany's winemaking region.

His immediate superior, the pastor Rev. Fabrizio Ilari, told the AP on Saturday that Godugunuru had left his post. He said Godugunuru was no longer on duty as of Thursday, citing "his own tranquillity and our tranquillity."

Ilari did not say whether Godugunuru was still in town and did not give any other details.

The ANSA news agency said earlier this week that Godugunuru had announced his intention to leave the job in talks with his bishop in Tuscany. Godugunuru could not be reached by cell phone.

The bishops supervising Godugunuru, now 40, said they were aware of the sexual assault case but believed he was innocent. They maintained he had not admitted guilt, and therefore had allowed him to work without restrictions.

Godugunuru's case was part of an AP investigation into the transfer of priests accused of sexual abuse.

Godugunuru had been charged with fondling a parishioner in her family's van on June 23, 2006. The priest, who was visiting from India's diocese of Cuddapah, had been allowed to assist at the Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Bonifay, Florida.

He denied intentionally touching the girl, now 19.

In February 2007 he pleaded no contest and was required to return to India, undergo counseling, not supervise minors for a year and not return to the United States. He was posted in Italy in 2008.