Teen Tells of Priest Abuse Testifies That Cleric Groped Her during Surprise Visit

By Nancie L. Katz
Daily News
January 29, 2003

Breaking into tears, a Catholic teen told jurors yesterday that her parish priest came to her Brooklyn home uninvited when she was 12 and made her sit on his lap, pressing against her inappropriately.

The alleged victim - now 16 - took the witness stand in a Brooklyn courtroom and testified that the Rev. Francis Nelson from St. Mary's Star of the Sea - the church she went to all her life - insisted on coming to see her grandmother, who used a wheelchair, even though her mother told him not to.

Nelson arrived bearing gifts of watches and books, she said.

"He pulled out a photo album and showed it to my grandmother," the girl said. Then he asked her to come sit on his lap to see another photo album, she said.

"I said 'No,' but he took me by the forearm and placed me on his legs . . . and opened his legs," she said, crying. "He began pulling me into his groin area and had his head on my back . . . breathing heavily and sweating."

Nelson is charged with three misdemeanor counts of sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. He sat frozen, wearing his clerical collar, his eyes closed or partially open as he gripped the defense table during the girl's testimony.

The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn removed Nelson, a cleric from India, from the church in Carroll Gardens and banned him from the borough after investigating the alleged May 26, 1999, incident and finding Nelson's denial "not credible."

About a dozen parishioners from St. Mary's were in the courtroom.

Defense attorney Michael Warren told jurors that Nelson visited that night and the girl sat on his knees, but nothing improper happened.

Sobbing and wiping tears, the girl told a hushed courtroom that after she pulled away that evening, the priest again pulled her onto his lap, pressed against her and then groped under her shirt and felt her breasts.

Before he left, he said, "Let's pray," she recounted.

She said she then ran up the stairs to her apartment and took a shower, feeling "all sweaty and . . . very dirty."

But an hour later, he called back and said, "Now that I've seen your home, come see my room in the rectory," she testified.

Asked why the family didn't call the police, she said, "I didn't want to put shame on the church."

The victim's angry mother later took the stand, describing her daughter as hysterical and crying after the alleged incident. She said she was furious when the priest arrived at their home after she told him on the phone not to come.

"Why didn't you ask him to leave?" asked Warren.

"I wouldn't throw a priest out of the house!" she retorted.


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