Minnesota Woman Wins Landmark Settlement in Priest Abuse Case
By Jean Hopfensperger
October 3, 2016
|Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul|
The woman who sued an Indian Catholic diocese last year for reinstating the priest who sexually abused her in Minnesota has reached a landmark settlement that she hopes will set a precedent for similar abuse cases nationally.
Megan Peterson had sued the Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul, who was extradited to the United States in 2014 to face criminal charges for sexually abusing her as a teen. He pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in May 2015 and was deported back to India after serving his one-year sentence.
When she learned that the Vatican approved Jeyapaul's reinstatement into ministry in India within months of his return, Peterson sued again — this time in federal court against Jeyapaul's home diocese and to prevent him from contact with children 7,000 miles away.
This week, the Ootacamund diocese agreed to remove Jeyapaul from ministry. Peterson, who was a 14-year-old in the town of Greenbush when she says she was raped and assaulted a decade ago, said she's appalled that it took a federal court action to stop a convicted sexual abuser from working with children in India.
"I can take this as a victory today, but the question not answered is: Why did the Vatican reinstate him?" Peterson said at a news conference Monday in the office of her attorney, Jeff Anderson. "That still has not been answered."
The case drew international attention because priest extraditions are rare. Its settlement is also unusual, said Anderson, because it includes noneconomic provisions such as requirements that the Indian diocese provide Peterson with annual status updates of where Jeyapaul is living and what he is doing until he is defrocked from the priesthood. The financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
"This is unprecedented," said Anderson.
The case was a test of a new legal strategy that has been successful in Minnesota — namely claiming that the priest was a "public nuisance" who threatened the safety of children.
The practice of reinstating priests who have sexually abused children in one country, to work with other children elsewhere, must be stopped, said Peterson, now an advocate for Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
"Something had to be done to help [keep] the children in India from harm's way," she said.