Society

Abuse Survivor Sues After Church Reinstates Priest

| by Nik Bonopartis
Megan PetersonMegan Peterson

A sexual abuse victim said she's going to sue the Catholic Church after officials reinstated the priest who allegedly raped her.

Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul, originally from India, was serving as a priest at a Catholic parish in Minnesota when two women accused him of raping them when they were both 14 years old, according to CBS News.

Jeyapaul was suspended in 2010, when the accusations came to light. He fled to India after he was criminally charged with sexual abuse, but he was tracked down by Interpol in 2012 and extradited to the U.S. to face trial.

In a plea deal in 2015, the now-61-year-old Jeyapaul admitted he sexually abused one of the teenagers. In exchange for the plea, the charges relating to the second rape were dropped, and Jeyapaul was given credit for time served while he awaited his trial.

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The priest returned to his native India in late 2015 and began lobbying for his reinstatement. Bishop Arulappan Amalraj, of the Diocese of Ootacamund, reinstated Jeyapaul in January, although the priest has not yet been assigned to a new post.

"After Jeyapaul's release from the United States and his return to India, this matter was referred to Rome, and according to the guidelines of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the suspension against Jeyapaul was removed," Rev. Sebastian Selvanathan, a spokesman for the diocese, told CBS in February.

Megan Peterson was "a devout 14-year-old altar server and church choir member" when Jeyapaul reportedly raped her more than a decade ago, according to the New York Daily News. She told authorities Jeyapaul raped her in his church office and in a confessional. The sexual abuse continued for almost a year, she said. The priest allegedly made her confess for the assaults and blamed her for making him "impure."

Peterson told a school counselor about the abuse, and the counselor notified police. She was credited with the first step that allowed Jeyapaul's second victim to come forward, and she won a $750,000 settlement from the Diocese of Crookston in Minnesota in 2011.

She is also a member of the advocacy group SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests).

Now, Peterson is saying Jeyapaul's reinstatement has dredged up old feelings about the abuse and has her concerned for children in India's Ootacamund diocese.

"We hope Catholics in Minnesota, India and elsewhere bombard their bishops with calls and emails until this irresponsible move is reversed," SNAP director David Clohessy told the Daily News. "This may well be the worst case of callous and reckless actions by Catholic officials we've seen in 15 years."

Neither the Crookston diocese in Minnesota, nor the Ootacamund diocese in India responded to requests for comment, according to reports, and a Vatican spokesman did not return calls from reporters.

Pope Francis, who has been harshly critical of priests and senior officials involved in the abuse scandals and subsequent cover-ups, also shares responsibility for the reinstatement of Jeyapaul, according to attorney Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minnesota, who represented Peterson and Jeyapaul's second, unnamed victim.

"They're both quite upset, disturbed and feel deeply betrayed that [the church] would have the audacity to consider even putting him back in ministry," Anderson told CBS in February. "To use Megan's words, 'They'll never get it and I'm feeling re-victimized.'"

Anderson will now be filing Peterson's current lawsuit in federal court, according to the Daily News.

Sources: New York Daily News, CBS News / Photo credit: Marcus Santos/New York Daily News

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