Brick Woman Files Civil Suit against Priest
By Susanne Cervenka
Asbury Park Press
July 4, 2014
A Brick woman has filed a civil lawsuit against a Catholic priest awaiting trial on criminal charges accusing him of sexually assaulting the woman and her two children.
Dawn Corvino of Brick, as well as her two children, who are listed in the lawsuit as John and Jane Doe, are accusing Marukudiyil Velan of sexually assaulting them in their home in July 2012, causing emotional distress.
A criminal case related to the incident is pending with a trial scheduled for September, said Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. Velan faces charges of criminal sexual contact, sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child, according to the February 2013 indictment.
The civil lawsuit, filed Tuesday, also names the Catholic Diocese of Trenton and Church of the Visitation on Mantoloking Road in Brick, accusing both of causing emotional distress as well as failing to supervise Velan, who previously was a priest at the church.
The diocese had not received notice of the lawsuit, but typically would not comment on pending litigation, said Rayanne Bennett, spokeswoman for the diocese, which would also represent the parish in a lawsuit.
The Visitation parish website does not list Velan as a priest. Velan’s attorney in the criminal case, S. Karl Mohel, said his client is not affiliated with the church after being suspended by the diocese pending the outcome of the criminal case.
Mohel said he wasn’t aware of the civil suit, but said it doesn’t change his position that the charges were wrongly brought against Velan.
“The civil suit is interesting because it lends itself to the motive,” Mohel said. “He’s maintained his innocence since Day 1. All of our investigation has not uncovered any wrongdoing on his part.”
The case seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorney fees, but does not list a specific amount.
Corvino’s attorney, Greg Tomczak, said this lawsuit is not about money for his client, even if some might suggest it in cases like these. The two-year statute of limitations related to Corvino’s claims expires July 12, which prompted the timing of the lawsuit.
The children, ages 13 and 5 at the time of the incident, have until they are 18 to file a civil case.
“The children have been subjected to some really horrific acts,” he said. “Ms. Corvino just wants to get justice for her children and herself and also ensure they are cared for in the future so they can deal with the fallout of these tragic experiences.”
The lawsuit claims Velan first introduced himself in December 2009 and befriended Corvino and her children. During a 2?year period, Velan routinely visited Corvino and the children at her home, brought them food, prayed with them and invited the family to attend Mass.
The lawsuit accuses Velan of groping Corvino’s son in April 2012 on an unchaperoned outing. Velan stopped contacting the family for some time after the incident, but eventually resumed the regular visits, the suit states.
Then on July 12, 2012, Velan visited the home and Corvino claims he molested her and both of her children. Later that day, Corvino contacted police, who arrested Velan on July 16.
Mohel expects to have anywhere between 40 and 100 character witnesses who will speak on behalf of Velan, a native of India whose name was listed in church documents as as Velanmarukudiyil Christudas. After the arrest, several of his parishioners rallied in support of the priest, known to them as “Father Chris.”
Mohel said Velan brought food to many families in the area who were in need. He also questioned the allegations, saying Velan took the family out for pizza after Corvino said the attack took place.
“It would appear to me that is certainly an issue when we go to trial,” he said.
Tomczak said he didn’t not expect the civil case to hinder the criminal case.
He also said this incident should not reflect on the Catholic institution, which has been badly battered over the past decade by sexual abuse scandals.
“The lawsuit is not an attack on the Roman Catholic church as an institution,” Tomczak said. “It stems from allegations in this complaint.”