Bishop Sends Accused Priest Back to India
Accused Priest Sent Back Home

By Mark Perkiss
The Times
February 13, 2006

TRENTON -- A Roman Catholic priest who was accused of improperly touching an 11-year-old girl at a Hamilton church school has been ordered to return to his home parish in India by Bishop John M. Smith.

The decision by Smith, who heads the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton, was released over the weekend, less than two weeks after a Mercer County grand jury threw out a charge of endangering the welfare of a child against the Rev. James Selvaraj, 46, who has been an adjunct priest at St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish in Hamilton since 2004.

"He was removed as an active priest once the allegations were made and now the bishop has decided Father Selvaraj should return to his home parish," said Steven Emery, a Diocese of Trenton spokesman.

Smith announced his decision in a letter dated Thursday and read at Masses at St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish starting Saturday.

"I am writing to make clear that Father James Selvaraj will not be returning to Saint Raphael-Holy Angels Parish nor be reassigned within the Diocese of Trenton," Smith wrote.

"While many are grateful for the service Father James rendered while he was here, he is not a priest of the Diocese of Trenton," the bishop wrote. "He belongs to the Diocese of Tuticorin in India and has been a guest priest assisting us with the permission of his proper bishop in India and with my approval.

"I have withdrawn my approval and instructed Father James to return to the Diocese of Tuticorin in India to receive a pastoral assignment from his proper diocesan bishop, the Most Reverend S.J. Amalnather," Smith wrote. "His bishop in India has been informed of this decision and will welcome Father James back to the diocese of his ordination."

The letter made no reference to the charge filed against Selvaraj or that it was thrown out by the grand jury. It was released days after about 400 supporters of the priest gathered at a Mass at St. Raphael to celebrate the grand jury's decision to throw out the charge.

Selvaraj has been on temporary assignment in the Diocese of Trenton since 1998 and served at Blessed Sacrament Church in Trenton before being moved to St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish.

Selvaraj's attorney, Marc Fliedner, said the priest "is very disappointed by the fact that the bishop decided to have that letter read. He has gone through the legal system and is looking forward to availing himself of procedures within the Roman Catholic Church to have allegations like this reviewed."

The child endangerment charge against Selvaraj, which was filed in December, stemmed from allegations made by an 11-year-old 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.

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 returned a "no bill," which means it did not find sufficient evidence to move forward with a prosecution. A "no bill" does not mean the suspect has been deemed innocent.

Supporters of Selvaraj said they were saddened by the bishop's decision.

There are people here who just can't believe this is happening," said Lou Monticchio, a parishioner at St. Raphael's who helped lead a petition drive supporting Selvaraj.

"We're deeply saddened and some are very angry. There's a lot of confusion," Monticchio said. "We have a legal process that has cleared Father James and if we're going to say that's not sufficient and we're going to make a decision with a different criteria that could be a slippery slope for a lot of us."


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