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  Panel Throws out Charge against Priest

By Linda Stein
The Times [New Jersey]
February 3, 2006

http://www.nj.com/news/times/index.ssf?/base/news-1/113895772466660.xml&coll=5

A Mercer County grand jury has thrown out a charge of endangering the welfare of a child lodged against a local priest, a charge based on the allegations of an 11-year-old girl.

The Rev. James Selvaraj, 46, adjunct priest at St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish in Hamilton, had pleaded not guilty in December to the child endangerment charge.

He has remained free without posting bail, though he was removed from his duties as a priest by the bishop.

Selvaraj's spokesman, Lou Monticchio, said Selvaraj was grateful for the trust and belief in his innocence that so many supporters expressed to him. Monticchio said Selvaraj also was grateful for the American legal justice system that allowed him to prevail in his pursuit of truth and for the work done by defense attorney Marc Fliedner.

After being charged, Selvaraj gained widespread support and many parishioners worked to raise money for his legal defense, Monticchio said.

"Words cannot fully express the feelings of great joy and jubilation that, once the truth regarding the situation was heard by the grand jury, justice prevailed in proving Father James innocent of the charge," Monticchio said.

"During this long struggle, Father James never lost faith and drew tremendous strength from the community of supporters," Monticchio said. "He is a beautiful witness about the power of faith in our lives."

The charges against Selvaraj stemmed from allegations made by the girl and her mother that he had "touched the child in a public setting at the after-care program for St. Raphael's School, which is affiliated with the church," Fliedner said in a written statement.

When Selvaraj was charged in December, the prosecutor's office indicated it also would seek an indictment against him for sexual assault, Fliedner said. But "the grand jury in returning a `no bill' indicates that (it) determined neither of the charges to be appropriate for continued prosecution."

"These false allegations were, unfortunately, fueled by ugly elements of cultural bias and prejudice against those in Father James' position as a priest," Fliedner said.

Fliedner said he gathered evidence that showed Selvaraj was innocent.

"I took sworn statements from a number of people who saw what happened and provided them to the prosecutor's office, and several of them were subpoenaed to testify," Fliedner said. "Obviously, we're happy."

Selvaraj, a priest from the Diocese of Tuticorn, India, has worked for the Trenton Diocese since 1998, according to Steven Emory, a spokesman for Bishop John M. Smith of the Trenton Diocese.

Selvaraj previously served at Blessed Sacrament Church in Trenton.

The bishop and Selvaraj will meet soon to determine Selvaraj's future, Emory said.

Meanwhile, Selvaraj does not have "priestly faculties" -- meaning he is not working as a priest. He remains removed from his assignment, cannot celebrate Mass publicly or present himself as a priest, Emory said.

Monticchio said church members hope Selvaraj will return to his post at the 4,800-family parish.

The grand jury voted "no bill" on the charge against Selvaraj on Wednesday, meaning a majority of grand jurors found there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the case, said Casey DeBlasio, spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office.

A "no bill" returned by the grand jury means the charge against Selvaraj in essence was dismissed. Because of the lateness of the session Wednesday, the indictment documents were not handed up to Superior Court Judge Maria Sypek until yesterday.

Parishioners plan to hold a prayer service of thanks at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Raphael-Holy Angels Church.
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Contact Linda Stein at lstein@njtimes.com or (609) 989-6437.

 
 

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