Crookston Diocese Official Speaks about Priest’s Arrest in India on Minnesota Sexual Assault Charges
By Stephen J. Lee
Grand Forks Herald
March 23, 2012
The Catholic Diocese of Crookston, in its first official comment since news of the arrest of the Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul in India last week on Minnesota sexual assault charges, says it hopes he is returned for trial.
Monsignor David Baumgartner, who as vicar general of the diocese serves as the right-hand man to Bishop Michael Hoeppner, told the Herald this week, “The only way for this to be resolved is for him to be here, so we would like a resolution to it.”
Jeyapaul, 57, has been a fugitive for six years from criminal charges first filed in state district court in Roseau in 2006. He is charged with sexually assaulting a parish member in Greenbush, Minn., when she was 14 and 15 in 2004 and 2005. In 2007 the charges were amended to include similar counts involving a second girl who was 16 during the same period.
As part of the extradition process requested by Roseau County attorneys, through the U.S. Department of Justice and Interpol, police found and arrested Jeyapaul on March 16 in his home country of India.
It could take months, or even years, to extradite him to Minnesota if he fights it, Roseau County Attorney Karen Foss said.
Not an admission
Megan Peterson, 22, says in late 2004 when she was 14 she went to Blessed Sacrament church in Greenbush to pray and was violently sexually assaulted by Jeyapaul, who was a visiting priest.
Last year the Crookston diocese paid her $750,000 to settle a lawsuit she brought charging negligence in hiring and supervising Jeyapaul.
The diocese did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement, Baumgartner said. It did a thorough background check on him, and within days of first hearing of inappropriate — but not illegal — behavior by the priest involving young people other than Peterson, effectively fired him, Baumgartner said.
But in Minnesota, as in many states, employers can be seen as having “vicarious liability, meaning whatever he did he did in our name and we are responsible for it,” he said. The lawsuit was “not commenting on whether Father Jeyapaul did something wrong. But Father Jeyapaul was not sued, we were sued.”
The nature of church work in rural areas is that priests — as well as Protestant pastors — often are without any direct supervision by a bishop miles away, Baumgartner said, and it’s possible a jury might have decided the diocese was negligent in supervising Jeyapaul.
“We just had to weigh... Is it better to settle within our insurance coverage or risk all the assets of the diocese?” Baumgartner said. No money from the diocese, or parishes, went to pay the settlement with Peterson, he said.
As part of the settlement, the diocese has taken care to seek out anyone who might know of any other abuse or misconduct by Jeyapaul.
Outside of the two women included in the criminal charges, no one has come forward, Baumgartner said.
The allegations of criminal behavior by Jeyapaul didn’t come to Roseau County officials, from friends of Peterson, until late 2006, and then the diocese learned of them, Baumgartner said. Since then the diocese has cooperated fully with the county attorney, he said.
Peterson's lawsuit really didn’t address the facts of the case, Baumgartner said.
“It would be our intention to cooperate with Roseau County completely if there is a trial,” Baumgartner said. “We certainly will be summoned, I’m sure. Our hope is the truth of the whole matter is revealed definitively.”
The diocese found Peterson’s allegations plausible, he said.
“But there is a difference between saying an allegation is credible and saying we believe he sexually abused her,” he said. “This is the simple truth: we don’t know what happened.”
“If Father Jeyapaul is actually brought here, that will be the gift of the trial, to have that decided.”
Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org