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Anti-abuse network asks victims to come forward: Re-assignment of convicted priest ‘stunning’

CROOKSTON — SNAP, a support group for victims of abuse, is making its presence known outside area churches in an effort to stop the re-assignment of a former Minnesota priest.

The Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul served as a priest in the Crookston diocese in 2004 and 2005. During that time, Jeyapaul was accused of sexually abusing two girls in the congregation.

Jeyapaul, who had since returned to his home country of India, was arrested in 2012 and eventually extradited from India back to the United States to face charges. While one set of charges was dropped, Jeyapaul was convicted in Roseau County in June 2015 of sexually abusing a 16-year-old Minnesota girl and sentenced to one year and one day behind bars--equivalent to time served during the proceedings--and immediately deported back to India.

Now Jeyapaul could be re-assigned to the clergy in India with the recent lifting of his suspension by the Vatican, less than a year after his conviction.

In response, SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, members are handing out leaflets and actively seeking out other individuals who may have been abused by Jeyapaul during his time in Crookston. SNAP members Megan Peterson and Barbara Dorris handed out the fliers Sunday morning just outside the parking lot of the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Crookston.

“Our goal is to find just one more victim who might be able to file criminal charges and get this proven predator behind bars,” Peterson said, adding that they handed out quite a few fliers, while a lot of people drove right past her.

Despite years fighting to get Jeyapaul extradited from India and then securing a guilty conviction, SNAP members are incredulous that the Vatican would put Jeyapaul in a position to harm children again.

“Catholic officials refuse to keep this admitted sex offender away from kids, so our only hope of stopping him is to get him charged and convicted again,” said Dorris, who traveled from her home in St. Louis for this campaign. “I’m stunned that top church staff are being so extraordinarily irresponsible, knowing this man is guilty of abusing one girl and is accused of molesting at least two girls.

“We’re heartbroken that kids in India are vulnerable now and may be even more vulnerable soon.”

Church response

The Diocese of Crookston shared with Forum News Service a letter Bishop Michael Hoeppner wrote to the pastor in Greenbush, where parishioners heard the reports that Jeyapaul was to be re-assigned.

“I, as bishop of Crookston, would never allow Father Jeyapaul to minister here. As you know from the moment ... credible accusation on Father Jeyapaul was received, Bishop Balke did not allow Father Jeyapaul to minister here nor have I,” Hoeppner wrote. “I stand in unison with my brother bishops in the United States who support the Charter for Protection of Children and Young People.”

Hoeppner would go on to write that the Catholic church does have a process of appeal, but he had not heard whether the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had heard his appeal, allowing him to minister in India.

The bishop of Ootamund diocese in India, Bishop Arulappan Amalraj, did not reply to a request for comment via email.

While SNAP members spent their Sunday blanketing the Crookston area, as well as Thief River Falls, Greenbush and Karlstad, they plan to expand their leafletting campaign to Grand Forks, N.D., Monday. They will stop by St. Michael’s church on Fifth Avenue North and St. Mary’s on Belmont Road before heading to Fargo, N.D., for an evening press conference, which they will hold outside the Fargo diocese headquarters.

Bishop John Folda of the Fargo diocese said as the issue involves a priest outside his diocese, which had no connection with it, and would not comment further.