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Woman sues Crookston diocese

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CROOKSTON - A woman sued the Catholic Diocese of Crookston on Thursday for more than $50,000, alleging that in 2004, when she was 15, her parish priest in Greenbush, the Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul, sexually abused her.

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It's an unusual case because the alleged abuse by the priest is said to have happened relatively recently and because Jeyapaul apparently fled the country in 2005.

Most cases that came to light in recent years involved abuse dating back 25 to 50 years.

Jeyapaul worked in the diocese less than a year before returning to India in September 2005, more than a year before the diocese learned of the girl's allegations, said Monsignor David Baumgartner, vicar general of the diocese, which includes about 35,000 Catholics in northwest Minnesota. Baumgartner said the diocese saw the girl's allegations as credible.

Attorney Steven Anderson in Warroad, Minn., filed the lawsuit this morning in Roseau County Court. He's working with attorney Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, who also signed the filing; the Andersons are not related. Jeff Anderson is well-known for the hundreds of millions of dollars he has sought and often won from Catholic dioceses across the nation in sexual abuse cases.

The plaintiff, named only as "Jane Doe121," says she grew up in a "devout Roman Catholic family, was baptized, regularly celebrated weekly Mass and received the sacraments" and that Jeyapaul was her priest in Blessed Sacrament parish in Greenbush where the abuse allegedly occurred, according to the court filing.

Beginning in 2004, Jeyapaul sexually abused her in the church, says the woman, who now would be 19 or 20. Because of the abuse, she has suffered "severe emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, humiliation and psychological injuries with attendant physical manifestations," according to the suit. She also says she "was prevented and will continue to be prevented from performing her normal daily activities and obtaining the full enjoyment of life," lost earning power and will continue to incur expenses for medical and psychological treatment and counseling.

The woman, through her attorneys, claims that Jeyapaul, at the time of the abuse, was under the authority, supervision and control of the diocese.

Baumgartner said the diocese acted as quickly as it could to extend help to the girl and her family and that the priest had left the country before the diocese learned of her allegations.

The vicar-general, top assistant to Bishop Michael Hoeppner, gave this timeline:

Jeyapaul came to the diocese in late September 2004, serving about six weeks in Thief River Falls before moving to the Greenbush parish about Nov. 1, 2004, Baumgartner said.

In August 2005, complaints about Jeyapaul's "inappropriate behavior" came to the diocese from parish members, he said. The complaints involved concern over Jeyapaul seeming to "groom" a young person or persons, trying, it seemed, to establish an inappropriate relationship.

Those complaints did not involve the girl who has sued the diocese and did not involve any allegations of illegal behavior, Baumgartner said.

Sept. 4, 2005, Jeyapaul went back to India ostensibly to care for a dying relative and never returned, Baumgartner said.

Sept. 15, 2005, then-Bishop Victor Balke withdrew the "invitation" to Jeyapaul to be a priest in the diocese, effectively suspending him from the diocese, Baumgartner said.

Oct. 4, 2006, the diocese learned of the girl's allegations against Jeyapaul, Baumgartner said.

"Our victim's assistance coordinator met with the woman and her family and I'm sure counseling or whatever help we could have offered was inquired of them," Baumgartner said. "And then, at the point where the family decides to move this to civil litigation, that's where our hands become tied because we are no longer permitted to have contact with the person or the family."

Baumgartner said the diocese also worked with the Roseau County attorney in determining Jeyapaul's whereabouts for what apparently were possible criminal charges the county attorney was contemplating against the priest.

County Attorney Lisa Hanson did not return phone calls from the Herald, but a court official said no criminal charges in the county ever were filed against Jeyapaul.

Any sexual conduct between a priest and a 15-year-old would be a crime in Minnesota.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests of the Twin Cities notified news media of the lawsuit Thursday, saying church officials should have known about Jeyapaul's "dangerous and exploitative propensities."

SNAP, which is closely tied to attorney Jeffrey Anderson, has stepped up its activities in recent months in this region, including holding its first news conference in the Fargo diocese this spring.

SNAP officials said they think Jeyapaul still is working as a priest in India.

The Crookston diocese's policy is that when it "receives an allegation about a priest, he is suspended immediately if there is any indication that the allegations may have truth to them," Baumgartner said. In this case, the girl's allegations were deemed credible by the diocese.

At no time was Jeyapaul actually a priest of the diocese, but is a priest, and under the authority of a diocese in India, Baumgartner said. Crookston diocesan officials informed Jeyapaul's bishop and archbishop in India of the allegations and the fact that he had been disinvited by then Bishop Balke, Baumgartner said.

But the Crookston diocese has no way of forcing Jeyapaul to return to the United States, he said. "Bishop (Michael) Hoeppner has no authority over him," Baumgartner said.

Jeyapaul's coming here is part of the story of a shortage of priests in the diocese.

The diocese has three priests from India serving among the 32 priests serving 68 parishes in the far-flung diocese marking its centennial this year. A fourth priest of India is on his way, Baumgartner said.

The fact is, the Crookston diocese, like many U.S. dioceses, has been short of priests, and India and other Third World nations have surpluses of priests and have been a source for many U.S. priests in recent years.

But such recruitment has caused problems, too.

In 2005, an investigation by the Dallas Morning News concluded that Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse often get special treatment from law enforcement and in some cases, foreign-born priets accused have been allowed to flee the United States.

The investigation cited the case of the Rev. Fernando Sayasaya, a Philippine priest hired in the Fargo diocese in the 1990s by the late Bishop James Sullivan. After young men came forward accusing Sayasaya of sexually abusing them, he was sent to a South Dakota monastery for a time, then returned to the Philippines, sources told the Herald at the time.

According to the Morning News, after being tracked down by the FBI, "Sayasaya admitted he had been told to stay out of the United States by an intermediary speaking on behalf of former Fargo Bishop James Sullivan. The priest admits he is working with boys again in Manila but told the Morning News, 'I'm trying to restrain myself.' "

Baumgartner said Jeyapaul got no help from the diocese in leaving the country.

"I can tell you the diocese of Crookston did not assist him in his departure and would rather that he would be here," Baumgartner said.

Whenever a priest such as Jeyapaul is brought in, a criminal background check and an international background investigation is done on them, and they go through an extensive interview, Baumgartner said.

He was not vicar general in 2006, but Baumgartner said he's quite sure the parish in Greenbush was formally notified of the allegations against Jeyapaul.

"If there are other victims, we want them to come forward," Baumgartner said. "There are people hurting out there and we want to do what we can to help."

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