A Catholic priest who was deported to India after completing his jail sentence in Minnesota for sexually abusing a child is the subject of a new lawsuit against a diocese in India that allegedly returned him to ministry with Vatican approval.
Attorney Jeff Anderson filed the lawsuit in federal court in Minnesota on Monday on behalf of Megan Peterson, who says the Reverend Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, a native of Tamil Nadu, abused her starting in 2004 when she was 14 or 15 and he was a priest at her church in the northern Minnesota town of Greenbush. Her lawsuit seeks unspecified damages in excess of $75,000 from the Ootacamund Diocese in Tamil Nadu.
“This is not only shocking, it’s a total break of the pledge Pope Francis has made that he will not return to the practices of the past,” Anderson said.
Peterson said at a news conference on Tuesday that she felt “abused, degraded and re-victimized all over again” when she learned that Bishop Arulappan Amalraj lifted Jeyapaul’s suspension in February after consulting with the Vatican.
“Children deserve to be protected in India and nobody is doing this at this point,” Peterson said.
Anderson said the Ootacamund Diocese was responsible for the anguish Peterson feels from knowing that he has access to children again. He said the federal court has jurisdiction to consider the case because the Indian diocese sent the priest to Minnesota and supervised him, so it did business in the state of Minnesota, but he also acknowledged that enforcing any judgment could be tricky.
Officials with the diocese in India did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Jeyapaul fled the United States after he was charged, but was arrested in India and eventually extradited to Minnesota. He pleaded guilty last year to molesting one girl, whose name hasn’t been made public. Under a plea deal, charges of molesting Peterson were dismissed. Jeyapaul was sentenced to a year in jail, but was freed because he had served almost three years in jail fighting extradition and awaiting trial.
The Associated Press doesn’t normally name victims of sex crimes but Peterson has gone public in hopes of empowering other abuse survivors.
Both women reached settlements earlier with the Diocese of Crookston in Minnesota.