DA: Priest Abused Girl at Her Grandma's

By Nancie L. Katz
Daily News
January 24, 2003

A Catholic priest fondled a 12-year-old Brooklyn girl while visiting her sick grandmother - and then telephoned the child to suggest she "see my room," prosecutors alleged yesterday.

The Rev. Francis Nelson, a 38-year-old visiting cleric from India, is charged with sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child in the May 1999 incident. He faces up to a year behind bars if convicted.

The priest, who is barred from working in the city's dioceses, greeted potential jurors at Brooklyn Supreme Court yesterday robed in his clerical collar and black cassock.

"Good morning, ladies and gentleman," he said with a smile, holding his hands out, palms up.

Prosecutors charge that Nelson asked the girl to sit on his knees and fondled her while visiting her sick grandmother as a parish priest at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Cobble Hill.

Invited to rectory

He then returned to his church, and 10 minutes later, called her home.

"Now that I've seen your home, I'd like you to see my room in the rectory!" he told her, according to prosecutors, who quoted the girl's report to church officials.

Nelson has denied any wrongdoing.

In April, Brooklyn Bishop Thomas Daily reversed a longtime policy and gave authorities the names of dozens of priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct of minors, sparking public outrage over the church's cover-ups.

Brooklyn Diocese Chancellor Andrew Vaccari issued a report, read in court, saying church officials couldn't determine the validity of the girl's charges but that the allegations "led to his being asked to leave the Diocese of Brooklyn."

Denial not 'credible'

Daily then told Nelson's bishop in India, Leon Tharmaraj, that he did not find the priest's denial "credible," according to church officials.

Tharmaraj then asked the New York Archdiocese to place Nelson, a doctoral student at Fordham University, at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Harlem, according to letters read in court.

After Nelson's arrest, the Brooklyn Diocese said it informed the New York Archdiocese about the allegations. But New York church officials said a pastor from the Brooklyn church wrote a recommendation, calling Nelson "fit to serve."

Nelson worked at the Harlem church until his arrest in May.


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