Officials of the Catholic Church in the Tamil Nadu region of Udhagamandalam have denied that they have reinstated a priest who recently served a prison sentence for sexually abusing a minor in the United States.
A lawsuit filed on Tuesday in a federal court in Minnesota, US, claims that the Diocese of Ootacamund (or Ooty, as it is known colloquially) has put Indian children at risk by reinstating Joseph Jeyapaul, a priest who spent one year in a US jail for sexually abusing a girl during his posting at a church in Crookston, Minnesota, between 2004 and 2005.
Jeyapaul returned to India in late 2015 after serving his sentence. In January, the Diocese of Ootacamund, as the church refers to its administrative district in Udhagamandalam, lifted his suspension from the ministry after getting approval from the Vatican. News of his reinstatement prompted a 26-year-old American woman, who was allegedly raped by Jeyapaul in 2004, to file a lawsuit against the Diocese. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a US-based advocacy group, also condemned the Vatican’s decision to lift the suspension of the “predator priest” as an “irresponsible” move that would endanger more children.
An official at the Ootacamund Diocese, however, told Scroll.in that Jeyapaul has not been reinstated in a manner that would endanger children. “He is not reinstated, he has just been granted a residence for his stay,” said Father Selvanathan, the media spokesperson for the Ootacamund Diocese. “He will not hold any post or have any responsibilities.”
In 2010, when Jeyapaul was still in the US, charges were filed against him for sexually assaulting two minor girls in Crookston between 2004 and 2005. Jeyapaul fled to India but was eventually arrested and extradited back to the US in 2012. He eventually pleaded guilty to sexually abusing one of the girls and was awarded a one-year jail sentence. The charges filed by another woman, who claims Jeyapaul raped her for a year when she was 14, were dropped. This woman, now 26, filed Tuesday’s lawsuit to prevent more children in India from potential abuse at the hands of the priest.