In what is being called a “landmark settlement,” a Minnesota woman has won a lawsuit that will prevent the priest who sexually abused her from returning to the ministry in India. Megan Peterson was just 14-years-old when she alleged Father Joseph Jeyapaul raped and assaulted her in her hometown of Greenbush. The abuse took place over a decade ago, but the memory of the harrowing experience lives on for Peterson, who vowed to do whatever was necessary to ensure no other child endured the sexual violence she did at the hands of the predatory priest. She previously sued Jeyapaul, but the molestation charges were dropped as part of a plea deal. Peterson stated that in 2011, she settled with the Crookston diocese for $750,000.
However, Father Jeyapaul was extradited back to the United States from his native country to face separate criminal sexual charges against him in 2014; in 2015, the priest pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct with another young girl and was sentenced to one year and one day. Upon completing the time for his crime, which was considered served throughout the duration of the court proceedings, he was deported back to India. Peterson believed the verdict successfully prevented the priest from having any further access to children under his ‘holier than thou’ guise. That is, until she learned the Vatican had approved his reinstatement into the church only a few months after he returned to India. Rather than waiting to hear of the next victim’s exploitation, she took matters into her own hands by suing again. She said, “I know what this man is capable of. Something had to be done to save the children in India that would be in harm’s way.” She filed suit in federal court against Jeyapaul’s home diocese, who earlier this week, agreed to remove him from the ministry.
The case has gained international attention because of the precedent it has set in cases of sexual assault by men of the cloth. Not only is it rare for priests to be extradited, the settlement also includes certain provisions that must be met apart from any financial payout. In addition to removing Jeyapaul from the ministry in India, the diocese must also maintain annual contact with Peterson regarding Jeyapaul’s whereabouts until he is officially defrocked. Details regarding any financial portion of the settlement were not released to the press. With her lawyer Jeff Anderson by her side in his office, Peterson spoke to the press after the verdict was handed down. She said, “I can take this as a victory today, but the question not answered is: Why did the Vatican reinstate him? That still has not been answered.”
In a statement released by the Vatican in 2014 it was revealed since 2004, over 3,600 cases of rape and molestation by priests have been reported to the Holy See, which has resulted in 848 priests being defrocked for sexual misconduct and an additional 2,572 being sanctioned for lesser punishments. However, cases of alleged sex assault by trusted religious officials dates back decades, with countless children having suffered unspeakable pain and shame by those who have chosen to dedicate their lives to God and His teachings by providing sanctuary to those who seek the guidance of a Higher Power.
The Vatican has long protected sex offenders by covering up allegations of abuse and reassigning predators to different ministries knowing full well they would likely offend again. It is a tragedy of epic proportion, and one that cannot and should not be ignored. No one, not even the Vatican, is above the law. A pedophile is a pedophile. Donning symbols of faith and taking a vow of servitude never has, and never will, change that.