She stood alone under a cloudy sky to speak for the victims and for herself.
“I am a victim of rape by a priest,” Megan Peterson said.
She was 14, she said, when she was first raped by the Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul, her parish priest in Greenbush, Minn. The abuse went on for 10 months, she said, until Jeyapaul fled to his native India. Charges were filed against Jeyapaul and extradition proceedings have begun. Peterson and the Diocese of Crookston reached a civil settlement last summer.
Peterson, now 22 and a student at Winona State University, was at the Pastoral Center of the Diocese of Winona Tuesday afternoon to tell her story and ask the bishop and diocesan officials to work for and with people sexually exploited and abused by Catholic clergy and religious. She was there as part of a May Day visit by members of SNAP — Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — to the headquarters of Roman Catholic dioceses across Minnesota.
Inside the pastoral center, Peterson offered diocesan communications director Joel Hennessy a list of more than 100 priests and religious members accused of abuse who have served in Minnesota. She asked him to convey her message to the bishop.
Hennessy accepted the list and agreed to speak to Bishop John Quinn. He said the visit was unannounced and he had no official comment.
“This caught us off-guard,” he said.
The Diocese of Winona Safe Environment Program, which has been in place for a number of years, includes background checks, ongoing education and a formal code of conduct for all ministerial employees. The diocesan website spells out procedures and resources for abuse victims and provides a link to report abuse online.
“I’m definitely not trying to take the church down or anything like that,” Peterson said. “I’m just trying to help those who have been harmed and to expose the cover-up.”
The experience has changed her life profoundly, Peterson said. Before the rapes, “I was very, very religious,” she said, “I was pretty set on being a nun.” For the previous five summers she had spend time visiting convents. For eighth-grade career day she as a nun.
She is no longer a member of the church, she said, no longer attends Mass.
“Faith is a huge part of a person’s life,” she said. “I wish I still had it.”