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Rediff.com  » News » 'Ooty diocese must protect kids from convicted priest'

'Ooty diocese must protect kids from convicted priest'

April 22, 2016 10:54 IST

'I truly believe that I have to do everything in my power to make sure that kids are protected and safe,' Megan Peterson, who has filed a case against the Ottacamund diocese and Bishop A Amalraj, tells Ritu Jha/Rediff.com

Father Joseph Jeyapaul"It's very, very, tough for Megan to learn he is still active in the ministry and has been restored at that ministry around kids," Jeff Anderson, Megan Peterson's attorney, tells Rediff.com

Peterson has filed a federal lawsuit against the Diocese of Ootacamund in Tamil Nadu and Bishop A Amalraj for reinstating convicted priest Father Joseph Jeyapaul, left.

Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, 61, served at the church between 2004 and 2005 in Greenbush, Minnesota, and sexually abused Peterson when she was 14, 15 years old. Megan had then wanted to become a nun.

The priest pleaded guilty to fourth degree criminal sexual conduct in the Roseau County District Court, Minnesota and was sentenced to a one year, one-day, jail term. He was deported to India in July 2015.

Less than six months later, the Diocese of Ootacamund lifted Jeyapaul's suspension following approval from the Vatican.

"We brought this action in federal court against the diocese for nuisance," says Anderson who filed the case April 19 in the United States District Court in Minnesota

Speaking to to Rediff.com over the telephone, Megan Peterson says, "I think strong action needed to be taken against the Catholic church and against Father Joseph."

"I truly believe that I have to do everything in my power to make sure that kids are protected and safe," she says.

Asked if she wanted to be a nun, she says, "Yes, but not anymore. I was 14 years old and wanted to become a nun. But I was assaulted.The incident took everything away.

"My career aspirations, my community, my mental health, my family were affected," she adds. "Now the Vatican and bishop's actions are adding a whole layer of issues and mental anguish that didn't exist."

"We have a letter signed by 500 people in that (Ottacamund) diocese, all of whom trust him and all of whom consider him their priest and their leader and believe him to be innocent," Anderson tells Rediff.com

"But in fact he is not innocent. He is convicted. He is a predator who has pleaded guilty to criminal offense of conduct in the US."

Bishop Amalraj, the attorney adds, is putting children in the diocese, who interact with Jeyapaul, in peril.

"Megan and we felt strongly," Anderson says, "to do something to stop the Vatican, to stop the bishop, to stop Jeyapaul abusing kids."

Asked how the case goes further from here, Anderson says, "The case has been filed in the Minnesota federal court. The federal court has the ability to use 'long arm law' to require the bishop to answer to the complaint. The court has the power to order the bishop to do certain things."

"If the bishop doesn't follow the order," the attorney warns, "then we will seek damages from the bishop until he removes the priest from the ministry and kids. By keeping him in the ministry and putting him back, he (the bishop) is doing further harm to Megan and that's why she is suing him to protect the kids."

The letter has been sent to Bishop Amalraj to let him know that the Diocese of Ottacamund and he have been sued. The bishop and the diocese have 30 to 60 days to respond to the letter.

"Kids there are unaware and unwarned and are unable to protect themselves and that is why this action is so important," says Anderson.

"I am astonished, shocked, outraged and worried about those kids in India," he adds.

The Vatican and the bishop need to protect children, the attorney says, adding that instead they are more interested in protecting the priest and their reputation.

"He is an admitted criminal," David Clohessy, Executive Director, Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests -- SNAP, one of the largest, oldest and self-help group for clergy sex abuse victims, whether assaulted by ministers, priests, nuns or rabbis in the United States -- tells Rediff.com

"Our mission to support people who are abused and heal the wounded," Clohessy says, adding, "SNAP members this past week distributed leaflets We are basing this on the news we got from India."

"Kids are safe when predators are jailed," Clohessy says. "We want Catholics in India and the US to express outrage at church officials who should act to protect kids."

"We would be very grateful if Indian law enforcement would do whatever they can to protect kids from him," Clohessy adds.

Asked if Jeyapaul faces any charge in India, Clohessy says SNAP is not aware of any such charges, but notes that victims of sexual abuse often take decades to come forward.

Clohessy, who has been at SNAP for over two decades, believes strict rules imposed by the Vatican are not enough stop such sexual abuse. "What is needed is for Catholic officials to show courage and compassion."

The church, he says, is a monarchy with each bishop essentially the lord of his own kingdom. The Pope has virtually has given bishops that power. "They don’t need new rules, they just need to act like decent people and protect kids from predators instead," Clohessy points out.

In a statement on the Vatican giving the Diocese of Ottacamund permission to reinstate Jeyapaul, Barbara Dorris, SNAP's Outreach Director, says, '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. We are stunned and saddened by such blatant recklessness and callousness.'

'But we're grateful that one of the priest's victims is filing a new lawsuit,' Dorris adds, 'using a new approach, to try and protect kids from this admitted child molesting cleric.'

Ritu Jha