After Megan Peterson, a 26-year-old American woman, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against an Indian Bishop for reinstating a convicted child molester priest with the Ootacamund diocese in Tamil Nadu, the latter has refused to comment on the developments.
"We got to know about the lawsuit from media reports. However, we cannot comment on it now as it will first be referred to our legal department," Sebastian Selvanathan, Spokesperson of the Ooty diocese, told TNM.
Attorney Jeff Anderson filed the federal lawsuit in Minnesota against Bishop Amalraj for reinstating Joseph Jeyapaul to ministry after consulting with the Vatican. Peterson has accused Jeyapaul of sexually abusing her during his posting in the US between 2004 and 2005.
According to Anderson, the Ootacamund diocese' decision is as "disgusting" as it is "alarming".
He said, â€śShe (Megan) was not only sexually violated and raped by this priest along with one other girl, but she had the courage to speak up years ago about this. She took some comfort in the fact that he was extradited, that he was convicted that he was in prison and that he would never been returned to the ministry to be around kids. And when we and she learnt that the Vatican and the bishop had made a decision to return him to the ministry and that currently he is the head of the diocese of commission for education and the secretary for the Christian democratic race movement in India as a priest, we are not only disgusted and alarmed but we also realise the serious danger and that Pope Francis has broken a pledge. This bishop has broken our trust. This priest is a dangerous predator and needs to be stopped. And theyâ€™ve chosen not to stop him."
Spokesperson of the Ooty diocese Sebsatian however refuted all reports of the church allotting a role to Father Jeyapaul in the ministry.
"He has only been given a residence to stay and has not been assigned any role. All the designations he held in the church were prior to his arrest," he asserted.
Speaking about his reinstatement, Peterson said, "I felt abused and degraded and victimsed all over again. it felt like a slap in the face to myself and to the other survivors of clergy sex abuse across the globe."
Jeyapaul who served as a priest in the Crookston city of Minnesota in 2004 and 2005 was arrested in India in 2012 and extradited to the US in charges of sexually abusing two girls in a congregation. He was later deported to India after serving his sentence.
On January 16, with the permission of Pope Francis, Bishop Amalraj lifted the suspension of Joseph Jeyapaul.
Peterson decided to file a lawsuit for "two very clear reasons".
"The first being," she said, "that children deserve to be protected in India and no one seems to be doing that. I have information that Jeyapaul is a serious offender and I am choosing to act and spread the word and protect those kids in India.â€ť
â€śI am also not going to let the Catholic Church and the bishop in Ootacamund take my voice away again. It was taken away ten years ago and I cant be re-victimized again which is exactly what the Vatican and the bishop there are doing by placing Joseph Jeyapaul back into ministry. I felt it was very important that other survivors could see a face than just a jane doe name. it was also a way to take my voice back,â€ť she added.
The decision to re-induct Jeyapaul was in clear contrast to the position taken by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India in 2010. A plenary meeting of this apex body of catholic churches in India had then said that they would have a zero-tolerance policy to abuse of children in institutions run by the Church.
The church body went on to say that â€śany clergy member accused of sexual abuse would be suspended from all priestly duties, and in extreme cases, the Church would consider defrocking the priestâ€ť.
Barbara Dorris of St Louis, Outreach Director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), an advocacy group of which the victim is also a member of, said that the case is unusual for a couple of reasons. "This is very current, this isn't from decades ago. It has got international attention - it has been brought before the UN, before the international courts of the Hague. He's been convicted, extradited, deported. all of sudden, His conviction has been lifted. Not by accident, but by the Pope himself. This says that this has gone all the way to the top. That is frightening... while we hear about their policies and tribunals, it's obviously ineffective," she explained.
When Jeyapaul was convicted Peterson felt it was "not quite the success I wanted personally for myself right away", though she admitted that it was crucial from several other aspects- everyone now knew about the crime and the criminal.
However, news of his restatement has come across as a blow to the victim even as she carries on with her fight.
"We need to act. These babies need us. They dont have anybody. and he has long arms in that country. So that makes me very alert that I need to do something,â€ť an emotional Peterson said.
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