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Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald, Published April 04 2012

Ex-Fargo priest ordered to return to U.S. for sex abuse charges

FARGO – According to news sources in the Philippines, an appeals court in Manila on Tuesday approved the extradition of Fernando Sayasaya, a former priest in the Catholic Diocese of Fargo, to stand trial in a Fargo court on decade-old felony sex charges involving two minor boys.

The Manila court ruled that the affidavit of West Fargo Police Detective Greg Warren detailing charges from two brothers against Sayasaya was credible and constituted probable cause, according to news reports.

Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick and West Fargo Police Chief Arland Rasmussen both said Wednesday they didn’t know if Sayasaya was in custody yet.

Burdick said he spoke with the U.S. Justice Department, which was contacting its representatives in Manila to determine Sayasaya’s custody status and whether he has any additional appeals or other legal avenues left to pursue before he can be extradited.

Rasmussen said he was in contact with the FBI, which also didn’t know if Sayasaya was in custody.

Rasmussen said the foreign court’s order to have Sayasaya returned to the United States is “good news for us,” but officials will breathe easier once he’s in custody and back in Cass County.

“Just like anything else, you don’t count on it until the money’s in the bank,” he said.

Fernando Sayasaya, who was defrocked several years ago at the urging of Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, was ordained in the diocese in 1995 by Bishop James Sullivan. He served at St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Fargo and at Blessed Sacrament in West Fargo. He was removed of his parish duties in 1998, after two brothers accused him of sexually assaulting them in 1997.

The priest was sent to the Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota by Fargo church officials; later he returned to his home country, the Philippines.

According to Warren, the West Fargo detective who pursued Sayasaya for several years, the priest admitted to sexually abusing minors in Fargo, on a trip with young people to Canada, in Rome and while taking a young person on a trip to the Philippines.

In 2002, Aquila replaced Sullivan, who died in 2006.

In a statement Tuesday, Fargo diocese spokeswoman Tanya Watterud said Aquila, “upon hearing the news” of Sayasaya being ordered to be returned to the United States, “voiced his confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system in Fargo.

“When allegations of wrongful conduct surfaced, Sayasaya was removed from his priestly assignments in the diocese of Fargo in August 1998,” Watterud said, adding that Aquila asked Rome to dismiss Sayasaya from the priesthood.

In 2002, Burdick charged Sayasaya, in abstention, with two counts of gross sexual imposition, each a Class B felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.