Didn't Abuse Girl, Priest Tells Jurors

By Nancie L. Katz
Daily News
February 4, 2003

A priest accused of pressing himself inappropriately against a 12-year-old girl swore yesterday that he did nothing more than have her sit on his knee.

The girl, now 16, tearfully told jurors last week in Brooklyn Supreme Court that the Rev. Francis Nelson, 38, came to her Carroll Gardens home uninvited, pulled her onto his lap, pressed his genitals against her twice, sweating and panting, and reached under her shirt and bra.

Nelson, who was then assigned to St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, was removed from the Brooklyn Diocese afterward and placed in Manhattan.

His case came to the attention of authorities last spring, when the Brooklyn Diocese gave the district attorney's office files with sexual allegations against dozens of priests.

For hours yesterday, Nelson, wearing a Roman collar, took the witness stand to fight the sexual abuse charges, branding the girl's story "not credible." He said diocese superiors lied to jurors when they said he had confessed to them that his actions were "imprudent," and he was told to leave Brooklyn.

"Did you ever fondle [the girl] while at her home?" asked defense lawyer Michael Warren.

"Absolutely not. Never!" Nelson said.

"Did she ever sit in your legs?"

"No. Never!" he shot back.

1999 home visit

Nelson, who came to the parish as a visiting cleric from India in 1996, said he dropped by the girl's house May 27, 1999, to deliver a schedule for altar servers because the address she had given for mailings was "not clear."

In a phone call immediately before, she told him about her sick grandmother, and he suggested he come and bless her, he said.

But the girl's mother testified last week that she told him not to come and was furious when he showed up.

As he was showing the grandmother a photo album of his ordination in India and his mother's memorial there, the girl was standing, trying to see from behind them, he said. So, he offered her his knee to get a better look, he said.

"She was only there for four or five minutes, and then she got up," he said. "She never sat on my knee again."

Nelson also denied telling superiors who investigated the incident that he invited the girl back to the rectory.


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