Priest Convicted of Molesting Girl, 12, at Her Home in 1999

By Andy Newman
New York Times
February 6, 2003

In the first case brought in New York City based on old files turned over by the Roman Catholic church, a priest was convicted yesterday in Brooklyn of molesting a 12-year-old girl at her home in 1999.

The priest, Francis X. Nelson, 39, who is to be sentenced next month, faces a likely term of up to a year in prison for second-degree sexual abuse, a misdemeanor. Although he was removed from the Brooklyn diocese after the 1999 incident, he moved to a Harlem church and worked there until he was arrested last spring.

In May 1999, prosecutors said, Father Nelson, a native of India assigned to St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Carroll Gardens, entered the girl's home on the pretext of visiting her sick grandmother.

The girl, now 16, testified at the weeklong trial that with her terminally ill grandmother in her wheelchair a few feet away, Father Nelson pulled her onto his lap and pressed himself against her buttocks through their clothing. The girl testified that she was uncomfortable and offered Father Nelson a glass of water and that he pulled her onto his lap again, this time putting his hand up her shirt and touching her breast.

Then, she testified, Father Nelson said, "Let's pray."

In 1999, the girl's family reported the incident to the Brooklyn diocese, which conducted its own investigation, as was its policy at the time. The diocese did not believe Father Nelson's denial and ordered him out of the diocese, church officials said.

The diocese said that it notified Father Nelson's bishop in India of the reason for his removal, but that the bishop, Leon A. Tharmaraj, said he had never heard about the sex abuse allegations. He wrote a letter of recommendation that Father Nelson used to get a job at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Harlem.

Last year, under pressure from the Brooklyn district dttorney, Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn diocese turned over 25 files containing allegations of sexual abuse by priests. The statute of limitation on all but two had expired. One was against Father Nelson.

The jury in State Supreme Court returned its verdict on the second afternoon of deliberations. About 20 supporters of Father Nelson, many of them from St. Charles Borromeo, cried and comforted one another.

A spokesman for the Brooklyn diocese, Frank De Rosa, said of the verdict: "It's a time for healing a wound that deeply affected the parish. We're grateful for the integrity of the court system in following the case."


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