Brick Priest Facing Sex Assault Charges out on Bail
By Dustin Racioppi
Asbury Park Press
July 19, 2012
|Church of the Visitation in Brick. |
TOMS RIVER — The popular Brick priest who was arrested last weekend on sexual assault charges is free on bail today and is denying "any involvement" in the allegations against him, his attorney said.
"He's sort of shocked by these charges," said S. Karl Mohel, the attorney for Marukudiyil Velan, better known as Father Chris.
It is not clear who exactly posted Velan's bail, but Mohel said "I think some people got together some money and bailed him out." Mohel said Velan was released from jail Wednesday night.
When Velan was arrested on Saturday, his bail was set at $75,000 with the option to post 10 percent. However, the jail listed his bond set at $100,000 with the 10 percent option. Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said she was unaware of the reason for the increase.
The Asbury Park Press asked the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office for a photo of the suspect, but it declined. State law allows authorities discretion in releasing suspect photos, but they often refuse to do so, saying media publicity could affect their ability to select a jury.
Velan, 64, who is referred to by the Diocese of Trenton as Velanmarukudiyil Christudas, has been an adjunct priest at the Church of the Visitation, on Mantoloking Road in Brick, since 2001. He is accused of grabbing a 13-year-old boy's genitals and fondling the boy's mother's breast during a visit with the family on Friday. Mohel would not go into the details of the visit.
Mohel said Velan was not only shocked by the allegations, but saddened and concerned "because he's had a good name his entire life."
A band of his supporters have echoed that throughout the week, saying Velan infused the Church of the Visitation with the energy of a smile, an open ear and a habit of handing out sweets after Mass and during church programs. Before arriving to the Brick church a decade ago, Velan served in San Francisco, Australia and India, his native country. Mohel said he spent three years traveling through India with Mother Teresa ministering to lepers.
As a result of the charges, Velan's faculties to minister in the diocese have been withdrawn by Bishop David M. O'Connell, head of the diocese. Velan's address is listed at the church, but Mohel said Velan is now staying with a friend. He is not allowed on parish property with the charges pending because the allegations involve a minor, said Rayanne Bennett, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Trenton.
Velan's religious superiors in Rome and India are aware of the charges, she said. Velan is responsible for all expenses in the case, she added.
"I think he's in a good frame of mind," Mohel said. "He's concerned, but I think, generally, he's a very positive person, and it's part of his life's journey to address these charges and have them cleared."