ROME — Just what is it that the Vatican does not get about predator priests? Apparently a lot.
Father Joseph Jeyapaul is a priest from India who admitted to raping two adolescent girls in Minnesota when he served the Crookston diocese from 2004 to 2005.
After being charged with the abuse, which included rape and forcing at least one of the girls to perform fellatio on him, he fled home to India, where he was eventually arrested on an Interpol warrant. He was then extradited back to Minnesota, where he admitted his heinous crimes and entered a plea bargain in which, in exchange for a lighter sentence, he copped to molestation of one of the girls.
Jeyapaul was suspended from the priesthood and served a year and a day in prison in Minnesota, then was deported back to India after his release last July. The Minnesota diocese where he worked also settled a civil lawsuit with the victims in which one accused him of systematic abuse in the confessional of the Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenbush, Minnesota, where he would then tell the girl it was her fault, that she had made him “impure.”
How much more proof would one need that the man cannot be trusted with minors?
Apparently, Jeyapaul’s rap sheet is not enough to kick him out of the priesthood for good. In February, the Vatican approved lifting his suspension from the priesthood and agreed that he could be reassigned to a new parish in India. That parish even made him the diocesan head of its commission for education.
“We are not only disgusted and alarmed, but we realize there is a serious danger,” Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson said during a press conference last week. “Pope Francis has broken a pledge. This priest is a predator who needs to be stopped, and they have chosen not to stop him.”
Anderson, who has been at the forefront of the legal battle for victims of clerical sex abuse in Minnesota, is involved because he represents one of the victims Jeyapaul went to prison for abusing. Megan Peterson, now 26, has stepped forward to tell her story to protect children. She asked Anderson to file a public danger (nuisance) federal lawsuit against the Ootacamund diocese in Tamil Nadu, India.
Standing by Anderson this week at the press conference, she said that when she heard that the Vatican had lifted Jeyapaul’s suspension for crimes against her, she felt “abused, degraded and re-victimized all over again.”
Peterson is asking the Indian diocese for more than $75,000 in damages for making her relive her trauma by forgiving her abuser in what is seen as a legal attempt to get the Indian diocese to rethink allowing Jeyapaul to start his new job.
“Children deserve to be protected in India and nobody is doing this at this point," Peterson said at the televised press conference. "This pope has said that bishops who cover up [sexual abuse] and the offending clerics have no place in the church. I feel like this is a slap in the face."
Peterson is not the only one calling foul. The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) says this is the last straw. “It may be the most irresponsible Vatican move we’ve ever seen: Catholic officials in Rome have lifted the suspension of a recently convicted predator priest,” SNAP’s outreach director Barbara Dorris said in a statement. “We are stunned and saddened by such blatant recklessness and callousness.”
Dorris added that the survivors are grateful that Peterson filed the lawsuit, which she referred to as a “novel approach” to trying to protect children from known predators by taking legal action to expose predators the church has reinstated or protected.
Still, it gives one pause to think that the Vatican could turn such a blind eye to a case in which the priest admitted to abusing minors and was sentenced in a secular court.
“I say this carefully and only after considerable thought,” David Clohessy, SNAP’s director told The Daily Beast. “The Jeyapaul case is the worst case we’ve seen.”
Whether Jeyapaul’s new diocese will consider the lawsuit and refuse to let the errant priest keep his job is of great concern to Anderson and victims alike.
“The Vatican under Pope Francis and the Bishop in India have both made the decision to permit this predator to continue in ministry after his conviction for child sex abuse and are promoting him as safe and trustworthy and holy,” Anderson said. “And as we speak, there are hundreds of children who we know trust him and believe him to be trustworthy.”