by April Scheinoha
A New York woman, formerly from northwest Minnesota, has filed a federal lawsuit against a Catholic diocese in India. The lawsuit alleges that the diocese is allowing a former Roseau County priest convicted of criminal sexual conduct to serve in the ministry.
Megan Peterson filed the nuisance lawsuit in federal court against the Diocese of Ootacamund, India, on Monday, April 18. At a news conference, she spoke about the lawsuit alleging that the diocese is engaging in a public hazard by allowing Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, now 61, to serve in the ministry.
Peterson said she filed the lawsuit to protect children in India. “I’m also not going to let the Catholic Church and the bishop in Ootacamund take my voice away again,” she said.
Bishop Arulappan Amalraj lifted Jeyapaul’s suspension, with permission from Pope Francis, on Jan. 16. Jeyapaul currently serves as the leader of the Diocesan Commission of Education and the secretary for the Christian Democratic Rights Movement in India, according to Peterson’s attorney, Jeff Anderson. Anderson also spoke at the news conference Tuesday, April 19 at his St. Paul law office.
Jeyapaul, who is from India, served Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Greenbush from about October 2004 until September 2005. He had also served at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Middle River. Jeyapaul returned to India a short time later.
Jeyapaul was extradited to the United States to face criminal charges here in November 2014. Before arriving back in Roseau County, he had been incarcerated in India since March 2012.
In June 2015, Jeyapaul was sentenced in Roseau County District Court to 12 months and one day in prison for a 2005 charge of felony fourth degree criminal sexual conduct. He was given credit for three years and 92 days served. Jeyapaul was then deported to India. The victim was a Goodridge teenage girl whom he inappropriately touched at his Greenbush home.
Two felony charges of first degree criminal sexual conduct were dismissed at that time. Peterson, who has publicly identified herself, was the victim in that case. She said Jeyapaul sexually assaulted her multiple times in 2004 and 2005 at a rectory, Blessed Sacrament and St. Joseph’s. Peterson was a teenager at the time. The Roseau County Sheriff’s Office learned of the incidents in October 2006 after Peterson told a school guidance counselor. In 2011, Peterson reached a $750,000 settlement with the Diocese of Crookston.
While the criminal matters were pending in 2010, 500 people in India signed a petition, saying that Jeyapaul had been falsely accused and vouching for his character. Anderson said children were among those who signed the petition, which was sent to him and Lisa Hanson, who then served as the Roseau County attorney.
Barbara Dorris, national outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also spoke at Tuesday’s news conference. Dorris said the case is unusual since it has been brought before the United Nations. She questioned how many more predators the Catholic Church has slipped into dioceses.