Megan Peterson and Barbara Dorris, members of a group called Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also known as SNAP, distributed fliers in a south Fargo neighborhood on Monday, April 18, near the headquarters of the Fargo Diocese.
SNAP is protesting plans by the Catholic Church to remove its suspension of the Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, news reported by numerous media outlets in February. SNAP is concerned lifting the suspension could return Jeyapaul to ministry duties in his native country of India, possibly putting him in contact with children.
When Jeyapaul was a priest in the Crookston (Minn.) Diocese in 2004 and 2005, he was administrator of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Greenbush, as well as St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Middle River and St. Edward's Catholic Church in Karlstad. He was accused of sexually abusing two girls in his congregation during that time.
Peterson said Monday she was one of those girls. She said it was "crushing" to learn the church is lifting Jeyapaul's suspension.
"I felt completely victimized all over again," said Peterson, who is now 26. She said the abuse she suffered happened when she was 14 and 15.
Peterson will also speak out in St. Paul on Tuesday when Jeff Anderson & Associates, a law firm there that specializes in sexual abuse cases involving the clergy, announces a federal lawsuit it is filing against the Diocese of Ootacamund in India over the lifting of Jeyapaul's suspension.
Jeyapaul returned to his home country of India before the criminal cases were resolved, but he was arrested in 2012 and eventually extradited from India back to the United States to face the charges.
He was convicted in Roseau County District Court last June of sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl and was sentenced to one year and one day behind bars—the time he had already spent in custody—and was sent back to India.
Peterson said the criminal case in which she was the victim was dismissed as part of a plea deal.
Dorris, outreach director for SNAP, said the group is working to raise awareness of the situation and to encourage anyone in the region who may have been victimized by Jeyapaul, or witnessed abuse, to come forward. She said a new criminal case could serve to take children in India out of harm's way.
"We need to do everything in our power to keep this man from being put back in a position of trust, respect and authority over some of the most vulnerable children of the world," Dorris said.
SNAP distributed fliers in other cities in northwest Minnesota and North Dakota on Sunday and Monday and called on the bishops of Fargo and Crookston's dioceses to urge parishes to use bulletins, pulpit announcements and personal visits to seek out anyone with information of suspicions about Jeyapaul.
Dorris said SNAP would also like to see Fargo Diocese Bishop John Folda to tell his fellow bishop in India to keep the suspension in place.
Folda didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon but had previously declined comment, saying the issue involves a priest outside his diocese.