TN diocese faces U.S case for reinstating convicted priest

By Varghese K George
April 19, 2016

The dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican city. Picture for representative purposes only.

Joseph Jeyapaul had served a year in jail in the U.S after he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a16-year old girl while working in the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota.

The decision of the Catholic Church to reinstate a priest in Udhagamandalam who was suspended after his conviction in a case of sexual abuse in the U.S is prompting one of his alleged victims to file a federal lawsuit charging the Church with “creating public nuisance.”  The Ootacamund Diocese also is a defendant in the case, which was scheduled to be filed on Tuesday.

Joseph Jeyapaul had served a year in jail in the U.S after he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a16-year old girl while working in the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota. He returned to India late last year after serving the jail term. The Vatican has recently decided to lift his suspension from priestly duties and the Ootacamund Diocese has said he would be assigned to church duties soon.

Megan Peterson, a 26-year old woman who had accused Jeyapaul of raping her when she was 14, is moving the lawsuit against the Church and the Diocese. Her charges were dropped in the plea bargain, and Jeyapaul served the jail term in another case. Ms. Peterson also won a $750,000 settlement from Diocese of Crookston in 2011. 

“This is a pretty unusual lawsuit and it may take years. But Megan is a courageous and determined person and no matter how long it will take, she will pursue it,” David Clohessy, director of SNAP or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told The Hindu. Ms. Peterson is a member of the network. She was scheduled to address a press conference after the case was filed.

“We’re grateful that one of the priest’s victims is filing a new lawsuit, using a new approach, to try and protect kids from this admitted child molesting cleric,” Barbara Dorris, outreach director of SNAP, said in a statement. “This is a novel legal approach — charging Catholic officials with creating “public nuisances” by hiding and helping predator priests,” she said.

Mr. Clohessy said it was not surprising or unusual for the Church to shield priests “credibly accused” of sexual abuse, but the reinstatement of a convict was “the worst so far.”  “It may be the most irresponsible Vatican move we’ve ever seen,” he said.

“Credibly accused priests have been often shifted to another country, where kids are even more vulnerable,” Mr. Clohessy said. “Many Catholics are surprised, and I hope, will also feel motivated enough to take action. Not enough has been done to persuade or force Catholic officials to act responsibility when faced with such instances.” According to him, despite repeated statements by Pope Francis against shielding Church officials accused of sexual abuses, nothing much has changed. “This Pope talks about abuse more often, makes more vague pledges, but like his predecessors, refuses to take action. It is tragic,” he said.

Ms. Peterson had told the New York Daily News in February that she was an altar server and church choir member when the priest raped her first in the parish office. The abuse went on for a year and Jeyapaul “blamed her for the assaults and forced her to confess that she had made him ‘impure’,” according to the paper.

When the charges surfaced, the priest fled to India in 2010. He was arrested in India by the Interpol and extradited to the U.S in 2012.


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