Cinnaminson Township, NJ – A state arbitrator has ruled that a tenured teacher cannot be fired for having impregnated a teen girl while he was a priest 30 year ago.
The Cinnaminson Township School District school board recently brought tenure charges against Joseph DeShan, who has taught in the district’s elementary and middle schools for 22 years, the Camden Courier Post reported.
It turns out that in 1988, DeShan had a long-term sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl while he was a Roman Catholic priest in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The girl gave birth to DeShan’s child in 1990, the Camden Courier Post reported.
Church records showed the girl was working in the rectory at St. Augustine Cathedral in Bridgeport when the abuse began, WFSB reported.
The police were never informed about the 29-year-old priest’s illicit relationship with the girl, and she was fired from her job at the same time he was removed from the ministry in 1989.
DeShan insisted the relationship with the girl was consensual, but his name has been included on the Diocese of Bridgeport’s list of current and former clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse, according to WFSB.
He was hired to teach at an elementary school in Cinnaminson in 1996.
The school district initially found out about the former priest’s relationship with the minor from the media in 2002, the Camden Courier Post reported.
DeShan was suspended but then returned to teaching after a three-week long investigation “with no further discipline or adverse effect on his employment,” according to the arbitrator.
But the information circulated again this fall and parents began objecting to his presence in their children’s classroom, according to the Camden Courier Post.
Stephen Cappello, the Cinnaminson Township School District superintendent, said parents expressed “serious concern” about DeShan at the Oct. 18 school board meeting.
“Many parents have come forward requesting that their children be removed from DeShan’s class,” Cappello said in a Statement of Evidence, according to the Camden Courier Post.
But the New Jersey arbitrator said that the matter had already been decided by the school district back in 2002.
“The fact that some parents now demand his removal from the classroom does not give the [school board] a second opportunity to revisit pre-employment conduct of which it has been long aware,” Arbitrator Walter De Treux wrote in his April 2 decision.
The school board argued that there had been a recent allegation of present-day misconduct against the former priest.
A female student had alleged that DeShan used a “weird voice” while talking about her “pretty green eyes,” the Camden Courier Post reported.
But the arbitrator said that the new complaint was based on hearsay evidence and could not be considered.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said it was “absolutely appalled” by the ruling that allowed DeShan to keep his teaching position, the Camden Courier Post reported.
"This decision not only flies in the face of common sense, it may also endanger more innocent lives," the advocacy group said in a written statement. "Catholic officials in both New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as school officials, should use every means available to seek out others who may have been hurt by the former priest, or who may have witnessed or suspected abuse, and encourage them to call police.”
The group also called on New Jersey lawmakers "to see what kind of administrative or legislative reforms must be made to prevent this kind of dangerous decision in the future,” the Camden Courier Post reported.
The school superintendent said the school district could not comment after the ruling because it does not comment on pending legal and personnel matters.
However, Cappello did state his displeasure with the arbitrator’s ruling, the Camden Courier Post reported.
"With that said, we are disappointed by the arbitrator's ruling and we are currently working with counsel to determine our next steps,” the superintendent said. "We will continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of our students and educational community."