In South India, Catholic Church Still Supports Paedophile Priest 

Despite repeated letters from the Bishop of Minnesota church, the Ootacamund diocese failed to act against Jeyapaul.

4 min read

On 24 August 2005, the diocese of Crookton in Minnesota received an anonymous complaint stating that an Indian priest, Father Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, working at the church had sexually assaulted a minor.

A second victim later came forward. Another young girl who had wanted to become a nun had been sexually assaulted by Father Jeyapaul. The man hailing from Tamil Nadu rushed back to India and after almost a decade of legal wrangles, he was convicted by the Minnesota court and sentenced to a year in prison in 2015.

After serving a shorter prison term, Jeyapaul returned to India a few months ago. And in a move that has shocked child right activists in the state; the Roman Catholic Church of Southern India has now lifted the suspension against him.

He was sentenced to a shorter term in jail based on a plea bargain, with the condition that he does not get back to ministerial duties or get in contact with children.

While the international media had first reported on the lifting of the suspension, the Ootacamund Diocese in Tamil Nadu confirmed to The News Minute that the church was not averse to allotting a role to Father Jeyapaul in the church ministry.

He was released from the prison in USA through a court order. His case was then referred to the Doctrine of Faith in Rome. According to the direction from there, the suspension was lifted. He has not been given ministry now, if he is given, it will be given with certain restrictions.
Sebastian Selvanathan, Spokesperson, Ooty Diocese to TNM

Zero-Tolerance Policy?

Despite repeated letters from the Bishop of  Minnesota church, the Ootacamund diocese failed to act against Jeyapaul.
Father Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul. Screen grab from a CNN interview. (Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

Father Gyanprakash Topno, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India refused to comment on Ootacamund diocese’ decision.

We cannot comment on the decision sitting here in Delhi. It is the decision taken by the Ootacamund diocese. They must have reinstated him keeping in mind various factors that we cannot at the moment question. As far as I know he is not been given a position as yet.
Father Gyanprakash Topno, Spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India

This is 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 had then said that “any clergy member accused of sexual abuse would be suspended from all priestly duties, and in extreme cases, the Church would consider defrocking the priest”.

When asked about the Child Protection Policy of the Church, Father Gyanprakash Topno reiterated that the decision was by the Roman Catholic Church in South India, and they cannot comment.

Vidya Reddy of Tulir - Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse (CPHCSA) calls the case a mockery.

It is unfortunate that child protection is treated so trivially by the church that runs so many educational inst. If this is the way Jeyapaul is being dealt with, what is going to be the church’s response to all the cases in which Indian priests have been accused? It makes a mockery of the recent proclamation by the church that they will look at child protection seriously.
Vidya Redd, Member, Tulir to TNM

Attorney Jeff Anderson of St Paul, Minnesota, who represented the girls in the case, criticised church authorities for lifting Jeyapaul’s suspension, said, “The Vatican must be held accountable.... This is on them. This is on the pope.”

While Peterson, one of the victims, has spoken publicly about her case before in hopes that it would help others, Anderson said she was too upset to comment Saturday.

They’re both quite upset, disturbed and feel deeply betrayed that they would have the audacity to consider even putting him back in ministry. To use Megan’s words, “They’ll never get it and I’m feeling re-victimised.”
Jeff Anderson, Attorney

Why Is The Church Relentlessly Backing Jeyapaul?

Despite repeated letters from the Bishop of  Minnesota church, the Ootacamund diocese failed to act against Jeyapaul.
Despite assurances, the Catholic Church continues to sideline childrens’ rights in favour of priests.(Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

In 2005, despite repeated letters from Bishop Victor Balke of the Minnesota church, the Ootacamund diocese failed to act against Jeyapaul. Bishop Balke, through several letters, clearly said that he believed Jeyapaul was guilty not just of sexual misconduct, but of financial misappropriation. The News Minute has these letters.

That’s not all. In spite of the complaints, Jeyapaul was made the secretary for the Diocesan Commission for Education in the Diocese of Ootacamund. It was only in 2006 when Archbishop Angelo Amato, Secretary of Church Development Fund insisted on it that Jeyapaul was suspended from ministerial activities.

Father Jeyapaul then told me that it was a sin if I didn’t cooperate. He raped me, both orally and vaginally. After he was finished with me, he told me that I had to confess. I had always been taught how wrong it was to have pre-marital sex. I felt as if I didn’t have a choice. So I did as he asked. Most mornings before school or in the afternoons following class, he would continue to rape me while I was in the confessional. Then he would give me penance.
Statement of Megan Peterson during the case

(Dhanya Rajendran is the Managing Editor and Co-Founder of The News Minute.)

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