When Megan Peterson was 14, she was sexually assaulted — sometimes inside the church confessional booth — over the course of a year by her parish priest.
So the abuse survivor was astounded to learn her tormentor, Fr Joseph Jeyapaul, was reinstated earlier this month by Catholic Church officials after a suspension of roughly the same duration of her time as a victim.
“It’s very clear what side the Church is on and it’s not about child protection or about morality,” said Peterson, a 26-year-old artist who now lives in Queens. “The bottom line is that the Church is not protecting children.”
Peterson, the New York City coordinator for the advocacy group (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), charges the church gave a virtual green light for Jeyapaul to target children in his native India.
The reverend returned to his homeland late last year, when he also appealed for a return to his priestly duties. He was suspended for less than a full year.
Peterson said the ruling by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine move is an insult to her and all other survivors of clergy abuse, Dailynews reported.
“I thought I had seen everything but I was clearly mistaken,” she said. “I’m very hurt and very angry. Actions speak louder than words and this is a slap in the face.”
The Vatican did not respond to a request for comment.
The decision to lift the priest’s suspension was particularly painful given its proximity to Pope Francis’ recent intimation of a special place in hell for bishops who enable rather than report child-molesting clergymen.
“A bishop who transfers a priest of a parish when a case of pedophilia is discovered is an unconscientious man and the best thing he can do is to present his resignation,” Francis said after his six-day trip to Mexico.
Jeyapaul pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a different underage girl in a plea bargain deal where the charges in his abuse of Peterson were dropped.
Peterson sued the Diocese of Crookston, Minn., and won a $750,000 settlement in 2011.
Peterson said she met first Jeyapaul in 2004 after his transfer to Blessed Sacrament Church, her parish in Greenbush, Minn., a small town near the Canadian border.
She was a deeply religious 14-year-old altar server and a singer in the church choir when Jeyapaul first raped her in his office, according to Peterson.
She had dreamed about becoming a nun before the abuse began, she said.
The abuse continued for almost a year, Peterson said, with Jeyapaul threatening “physical violence” if she told anybody about what happened.
Peterson, who was sexually abused when she was younger, believes she became a target because of her vulnerability. In a cruel twist, she had embraced her faith as a way to cope with the earlier abuse.
She described Jeyapaul as a predator whose first attack occurred just minutes after he invited her into his office to talk about books.
Other attacks took place in the church confessional. Jeyapaul made sure to tell his teen victim that the sexual assaults were her fault.
“He would tell me I would have to go to confession and confess to making him impure,” Peterson said.
Peterson eventually told her school counselor about Jeyapaul’s assaults, and the counselor notified law-enforcement officials.
Jeyapaul was suspended in 2010 after he was charged with assaulting Peterson and another girl.
The priest fled to India, but was arrested in 2012 by Interpol and extradited to the United States.
Jeyapaul, now 61, was sentenced to a year in prison — the time he served while awaiting trial. He worked as an administrator at schools and orphanages before coming to Minnesota, and reportedly has yet to receive an assignment in India.