A Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting two teenage girls a decade ago at a Greenbush, Minn., parish is one step closer to being extradited from his home country of India to the U.S. to face charges in Roseau County.
A judge in India recommended recently that Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, 59, be extradited to Minnesota so that he face two charges of first degree criminal sexual conduct in state district court in Roseau, said Mike Finnegan, an attorney with the Minnesota-based law firm Jeff Anderson and Associates, well-known for litigating clergy sexual abuse cases in civil court.
But that may not happen for some time, Finnegan said, since Jeyapaul has the chance to appeal the decision.
“Our hope is that he gets extradited as soon as possible,” Finnegan said.
Ultimately, the Indian government will decide whether to send Jeyapaul to the U.S. to stand trial, according to an Associated Press report.
A pending case
Charges were originally filed against Jeyapaul in 2006 after one of the victims, Megan Peterson, who has spoken publicly about the abuse, told police that Jeyapaul, a priest at her parish the Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenbush, had forced her to give him oral sex and fondled her in the church rectory when she was 14, according to court documents.
Peterson later told police that the sexual abuse was recurring from 2004 to 2005 and that Jeyapaul would sexually abuse her as often as once or twice a week during the school year, according to court records.
A 16-year-old girl who attended Blessed Sacrament also accused the priest of sexual abuse.
According to a 2004 study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, about 4 percent of priests working between 1950 and 2002 had allegations of abuse of children leveled against them.
Jeyapaul returned to India in 2005 before charges were filed and has since maintained he is innocent.
“I think Jeyapaul, like most perpetrators, minimizes, denies and blames others for what he did,” Finnegan said. “All three of those ring hollow with me. Both of these courageous young women want nothing more than to see him behind bars. … (They) have been scared that Jeyapaul could still be harming children.”
The priest was not arrested in India until 2012 after Interpol issued a notice.
With the criminal case against Jeyapaul still pending, the two victims have had better luck pursuing justice through the civil court.
In 2011, Peterson won $750,000 in a civil lawsuit brought against the Catholic Diocese of Crookston in which she claimed the diocese was negligent in its supervision and retention of Jeyapaul. The priest’s other alleged victim also won a monetary settlement in a separate civil lawsuit against the diocese.
As a result of the lawsuits, the diocese was also required to post a picture on Jeyapaul on its website, urging victims of clergy sexual abuse to come forward.
Since the passing of the Child Victim Act in Minnesota in May 2013, which disposes of the statute of limitations for civil claims made by survivors of childhood sexual abuse, the law firm Jeff Anderson and Associates has mounted about 40 cases across the state involving six different Catholic dioceses.
Peterson now works for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests in New York City.