Is India A Haven For Paedophilic Priests? Vatican Allows Convicted Priest To Enter Ministry in Ooty

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The Catholic Church has lifted its suspension on Father Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, 61, who has been accused and convicted of sexually abusing two underage girls in the United States, and will allow him to re-enter Ministry in Ootacamund (Ooty) in Tamil Nadu in South India.

Jeyapaul had been accused by the two girls from Minnesota in 2004 and 2005 of sexual assault.

According to one girl’s report, “…he proceeded to kiss her repeatedly, pulling her on top of him and at one point touching her beneath her clothing.” 

According to the second girl’s report, “Fr Jeyapaul had ‘rubbed up against her’ in the rectory at Middle River, in the confessional at Middle River, and had then fondled her breasts, exposed himself to her, and forced his penis into her mouth.”

The girls were 14 and 15 years old when Jeyapaul sexually assaulted them.

He left Minnesota in 2005 under the pretext of visiting his ailing mother in India. He didn’t return. In India, the Bishop of Ooty, Arulappan Amalraj sent him to a monastery for a year of prayer. After his year in the monastery, Jeyapaul used to work in the Bishop’s office in Ooty until 2010 where he used to help Amalraj of Ootacamund Diocese with the appointment of teachers in 40 schools in the region. During this period, Jeyapaul was a fugitive in the United States.

Jeyapaul was arrested by the Interpol in 2012 and was extradited to face charges in the US.

He pled guilty in one of the cases in June 2015 and was sentenced to a year in jail. He was let off because he had already served time while waiting for trial.

Amalraj who advocated Jeyapaul’s return to Ministry, got Jeyapaul’s suspension lifted on January 16, 2016, after he consulted with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Father Sebastian Selvanathan, the spokesperson for the Ooty Diocese, said in a statement to The Bayside Journal, “He [Jeyapaul] has already served his sentence so he has been set free by the Court of Minnesota on 15th June 2015. On his arrival, the Diocese referred the matter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. And the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, after consultation and consideration of this case, issued a directive to the Diocese. As per the directives given by the Congregation, the ‘Penalty of Suspension’ has been lifted, and the Diocese has been directed to impose certain limitations on Father Jeyapaul, restricting access to minors. So the Diocese has to imply with the directives issued by Rome.”

Father Selvanathan also told The Bayside Journal that he would be unable to divulge details of what exactly is Jeyapaul going to do or what treatment and rehabilitation he had undergone/undergoing before the Vatican lifted the suspension.

Advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) is appalled by this decision. “This is not an accident. Predators are being allowed to go to South America and India. It’s been well thought out,” says Barbara Dorris, Victims Outreach Director, SNAP.

Persons convicted of sex offences against children have to register themselves in The United States, Australia, UK, Canada and other countries. This restricts their access to children. There is no such system in India.

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Priests like Jeyapaul (those convicted of sexual assaults) are typically assigned to poor regions where people in the parish don’t know about their crimes, according to this report by The Global Post.

“This is every paedophile’s dream. We know that they molest throughout their lifetime. And he is going back to a community where people have very little ability to protect themselves,” says Dorris.

The lifting of Jeyapaul’s suspension comes at a time when Pope Francis is well-known for his zero-tolerance policy toward priests who have been convicted of sexual assaults on minors. The Bayside journal spoke to Father Nigel Barrett, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay.

“With regards to Father Jeyapaul, I really can’t make a comment on that. Knowing Pope Francis’ zero-tolerance policy for such behaviour, it’s really surprising unless there is some new evidence which has come up and exonerated him and that has not come into public domain as yet, and which is why we don’t know about it. I am sure The Vatican has its reasons as to why they have acted in the way they have acted,” says Father Barrett.

Jeyapaul’s position in the Ooty Diocese is not yet clear. According to Father Selvanathan, that decision will be taken in May this year. In 2009, Jeyapaul had written a letter to a priest in Minnesota saying that he was in charge of teachers in 40 schools in Ooty and that he controlled their appointments and transfers.

That doesn’t make any sense according to Dorris. Why would you put a man who has been convicted of sexually assaulting minors in the education system, she asks.

“If he has to be a priest, he could be working in a prison where he would not have access to children,” says Dorris.