WOMEN
05/03/2019 14:13 EDT | Updated 05/03/2019 15:56 EDT

Former Priest Keeps 6th Grade Teaching Job Despite Past Allegation Of Teen Sex Abuse

Joseph DeShan had a child with a 16-year-old when he was a priest in 1990. A state arbitrator says he can continue being around children.

A New Jersey middle school teacher will not lose his job even though he fathered a child with a teenager when he was a priest 30 years ago.

Joseph DeShan, a reading teacher at Cinnaminson Middle School in Burlington County, New Jersey, will keep his job working with 6th graders, despite having a “sexual relationship” with a 14-year-old girl in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1990, according to a recent ruling from a state arbitrator.

DeShan was 30 when he first met the girl, according to a 2002 report from the Hartford Courant. She became pregnant two months after her 16th birthday.

The age of consent in both Connecticut and New Jersey is 16, as long as one of the people in the relationship is not in a position of authority. If DeShan had sex with the teen when she was 14 and 15 years old, that would be considered statutory rape under Connecticut law. (Despite the arbitrator’s wording, it’s not possible for a 30-year-old to have a “sexual relationship” with a 14-year-old.)

But the statute of limitations on sex crimes in Connecticut is five years, and it had already passed when the woman came forward to the Hartford Courant with her story in 2002. 

Joseph DeShan/Cinnaminson Middle School
Joseph DeShan teaches 6th graders in New Jersey.

DeShan has openly admitted to having a sexual relationship with the girl and, as of 2002, was still paying child support. 

“It was a consensual relationship that didn’t work out,” DeShan told the Hartford Courant at the time. He did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

When the story first surfaced in 2002, DeShan was put on administrative leave, NJ.com reports. He returned to teaching three weeks later.

In December, the school district filed tenure charges against DeShan after parents of current students discovered the teacher’s history. The story was also revived by a recently published list of current and former clergy accused of sexual abuse in the Bridgeport, Connecticut, Diocese. The list included DeShan.

However, arbitrator Walt De Treux ruled that the New Jersey town could not fire DeShan for conduct that happened before he was employed by the school district. 

“The fact that some parents now demand his removal from the classroom does not give the [Board of Education] a second opportunity to revisit pre-employment conduct of which it has been long aware,” De Treux wrote.  

The arbitrator’s decision also includes a more recent description of an incident between DeShan and a female student. The description comes from tenure charges the Cinnaminson Board of Education made against DeShan:

On one recent occasion, it was reported that DeShan told a young female student that, ‘Look at me. Let me see your pretty green eyes. You don’t see them too much anymore.’ The student reported that the comment made her feel ‘uncomfortable.’ The student further noted that DeShan made the comment in a ‘weird voice.’

Stephen Cappello, superintendent of Cinnaminson Township Public Schools, responded to the controversial ruling in a Friday statement to HuffPost.

“As a policy, we refrain from offering comments on pending legal and personnel matters,” he said. “With that said, we are disappointment by the arbitrator’s ruling and we are currently working with counsel to determine our next steps. We will continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of our students and educational community.”

Alyssa Roamer, a parent of a current student, said during a school board meeting last year that she initially did not believe the rumors about DeShan.

“I said ‘that would never happen in the Cinnaminson School District, I promise you that. There would never be a rapist as a teacher in your school,’” Roamer said, according to a November report from the Cinnaminson Sun. “I [searched] him to find out everything, and I had to educate my daughter and tell her I was sorry that I dismissed her story and I had to teach her what a rapist was, what a pedophile was.”

The mother of the child DeShan fathered told the Hartford Courant in 2002 that when she told him she was pregnant, she got fired from her evening receptionist job at the Bridgeport cathedral.

She had the child in 1990. DeShan left the priesthood four years later, in 1994, and became a teacher in Cinnaminson in 1996. 

SNAP, a survivors network for people who have abused by priests, released a statement in response to the controversial ruling. 

“This decision not only flies in the face of common sense, it may also endanger more innocent lives,” the statement reads. “We beg New Jersey schools and political officials to see what kind of administrative or legislative reforms must be made to prevent this kind of dangerous decision in the future.”

This article has been updated to include comment from Superintendent of Cinnaminson Township Public Schools Stephen Cappello.