According to the New York Post, a New Jersey teacher who once had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl and got her pregnant — all while he was a Catholic priest — can keep his middle-school job, an arbitrator ruled.
Former Rev. Joseph DeShan, 59, began teaching in the Cinnaminson school district in 1996 — six years after he impregnated the teen, who worked in his parish rectory in Bridgeport, Conn., the state ruling said. Cinnaminson school officials didn’t learn of the illicit relationship until 2002, when it surfaced in the press. DeShan, who had left the priesthood years prior, was suspended for three weeks but eventually returned to the classroom.
Then last year, district officials alleged that DeShan made a 12-year-old student uncomfortable while commenting on her “pretty green eyes,” according to the ruling.
“Look at me,” DeShan allegedly told the girl. “Let me see your pretty green eyes. You don’t see them too much anymore.”
DeShan purportedly made the creepy remark in a “weird voice,” according to the seven-page ruling.
The former priest was accused of “conduct unbecoming of a staff member” by the district in December as parents requested that their children be removed from his classroom, according to the April 2 ruling.
The parents said their children felt unsafe being taught by a “rapist” and a “pedophile” who had no business being around juveniles, especially those close in age to the girl he impregnated, the document said. But the arbitrator ruled that the allegation involving the female student’s eyes was hearsay and did not warrant DeShan’s termination.
“The [Board of Education] … insinuates that the comment was laced with improper intentions and sexual connotations,” wrote state Department of Education arbitrator Walt De Treux.
“Yet it provides no non-hearsay evidence of the basis for that implication.”
And despite the changes in “parental and societal views” that district officials say now make DeShan unfit for a classroom, arbitrator Walt De Treux wrote in his ruling that the teacher cannot lose his job for conduct they’ve known about for 17 years.
“The BOE has not alleged that respondent engaged in any inappropriate conduct while holding public employment,” De Treux wrote.
“The fact that some parents now demand his removal from the classroom does not give the BOE a second opportunity to revisit pre-employment conduct of which it has been long aware.”
In a statement to The Post on Friday, Cinnaminson Superintendent Stephen Cappello said the district is “currently working with counsel” to determine its next steps.
“We will continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of our students and educational community,’’ Cappello said.
A mother at the middle school said DeShan was put on leave in October and has yet to return.The district did not respond to questions about his status Friday. DeShan, who has been named in a list of clergy members credibly accused of sexual abuse by the Diocese of Bridgeport, was removed from the ministry in 1989 after a “single allegation,” diocese records show.
He was never prosecuted in Connecticut because of the state’s statute of limitations on sex abuse, according to NJ.com. DeShan did not return several messages seeking comment Friday.
The Connecticut Post reported that the late Edward Cardinal Egan was Bridgeport’s bishop at the time of DeShan’s relationship with the girl, before serving as archbishop of New York. Egan had the teen fired from her rectory job and did not alert police to the matter, sources told the newspaper at the time. A church spokesman denied the allegation. Egan died at 82 in 2015.
A mother of two girls at the school told The Post that DeShan should not be teaching kids. “The bottom line is this guy had sex with a minor,” said the woman, who wouldn’t give her name. “This is middle school. The students are the same age as his victim. I mean, if you’re an alcoholic, you shouldn’t be working behind a bar.’’
According to nationally recognized sex abuse attorney Jeff Herman, “This highlights that church officials continue to put their reputation above protection of children. These victims’ journeys and the paths of all survivors will be made easier when meaningful action is taken. Tougher laws are needed to empower survivors, expose predators and deter future crimes,” Jeff said.
For over a decade, child sexual abuse survivors, advocates and supporters like Herman Law have been fighting against powerful institutions such as the Catholic Church and others to change New York’s child abuse statute of limitations. With the recent passage of the New York Child Victims Act, survivors of childhood sexual abuse have a limited one-year window to bring a claim, find healing, and empower other victims to come forward.
If you are a survivor of sexual abuse in New York, Herman Law may be able to help you achieve long overdue justice. Please contact us today to discuss your options.