Ocean County Priest Arrested on Charges of Sexual Misconduct with Female, Child
By Anthony Panissidi
July 17, 2012
|A garden named after the Rev. Marukudiyil C. Velan at the Church of Visitation in Brick|
BRICK — A longtime township priest, who has a garden named in his honor outside his parish, was arrested on charges of sexual misconduct with a mother and her child, authorities said.
Marukudiyil Velan, 64, known to his parishioners as "Father Chris," was arrested Saturday after he allegedly assaulted the mother and her child at their home Friday, Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said.
An investigation by the Prosecutor's Office concluded Velan befriended the unnamed victims before the incident. He was arrested after township police and members of the Prosecutor's Office interviewed the victims Saturday in connection with their complaint about Velan, Ford said. The priest was charged with one count of criminal sexual contact with the female, one count of criminal sexual contact with the child and one count of endangering the welfare of a child.
Velan was assigned to the Church of the Visitation on Mantoloking Road as a visiting Roman Catholic priest in 2001, according to the Prosecutor's Office. Bishop David O'Connell of the Diocese of Trenton has withdrawn Velan's faculties to minister during the investigation, according to a statement released Monday afternoon by Rayanne Bennett, executive director of the diocese.
Bennett identified Velan's full name and title as Benedictine Father Velanmarukudiyil J. Christudas. He is also listed on the church's website directory as Rev. V. Christudas, an adjunct priest. Ford said the charges brought against him bear the name of Marukudiyil Velan as found on his driver's license and passport.
Bennett said the church stands as Velan's only assignment thus far in the diocese which he joined after service in India, Australia and California.
No one answered the door at the parish rectory Monday afternoon and church officials would not comment on the situation, referring all questions to the Diocese of Trenton. However, a small vegetable garden outside the church.
Anna Delanoy, a resident of the area and non-parishioner, said Velan has stopped by her home a couple of times in the past and would bring cakes for her two daughters..
"If he saw us out he would stop by and talk; he was always very friendly," Delanoy said. "It's shocking to hear something like this. You never know; it makes you shake your head."
One township resident and 49-year-old parishioner who was born into the parish wished to remain anonymous, but said the allegations are heartbreaking because Velan was well-liked by all members of the church.
"It's heartbreaking because Father Chris was the man everybody loved," the woman said. "He was the man who you would make appointments with in his office and talk for hours."
Velan's arrest also drew a reaction from David Clohessy of the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests.
"This takes real courage. (The victims) should be commended for acting responsibly and promptly," Clohessy said in a statement. "We hope every single person who may have seen, suspected or suffered crimes or wrongdoing by this priest will speak up. It's crucial that they protect others by contacting police right away."
Despite the shock wave sent through the parish community regarding Velan's allegations, they are not the first of their kind at the church.
An unnamed 13-year-old boy was sexually molested during an October 1995 retreat with Junior ACT Ministries, a youth group for sixth- to eighth-graders associated with the church. Thomas Blumensteel, who was 24 years old and a youth minister with the church at the time of the incident, was sentenced to three years in prison in 1997 for fondling the teenager's genitals for his own sexual gratification while the two were in the same bed at the Aqua Beach Motel in Wildwood Crest.
"Often, accused predator priests from elsewhere flee the U.S. at the first chance," Clohessy said. "We hope law enforcement and Catholic Church officials make sure this doesn't happen here."
Velan is a member of the Camaldolese Congregation of the Order of St. Benedict serving in the diocese with the permission of Dom Bernadino, prior general of the congregation. Bennett said O'Connell has reached out to inform Bernadino of Velan's arrest and status in the diocese, and pledged the diocese's full cooperation with law enforcement during the duration of the investigation.
Ford said Velan is prohibited from contact with anyone less than 18 years old and required to surrender his passport. Velan is held in the Ocean County Jail in Toms River after his bail was set at $75,000 by the Honorable Francis Hodgson, Judge of the Superior Court.
Anyone with information regarding the investigation is asked to contact Detective Anthony Paciulli of the prosecutor's office at 732-929-2027 or Captain John Rein of the township Police Department at 732-262-2135.
The diocese also asks anyone with information regarding the investigation or any other instance of abuse to contact its hotline at 888-296-2965 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Bennett said the diocese offers a victims' assistance coordinator for those impacted by the allegation against Velan.