Priest Accused of Child Abuse

The Times
October 31, 2005

HAMILTON - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton removed a priest from active duty because of a recent allegation that he sexually abused a minor, officials said.

The Rev. James Selvaraj, the adjunct priest of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, was placed on leave last week pending the outcome of an investigation.

Diocese officials filed a complaint with the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office last week that alleges sexual misconduct by Selvaraj, law enforcement and church officials confirmed yesterday.

The prosecutor's office is investigating but no charges have been filed, said prosecutor's office spokeswoman Casey DeBlasio.

Neither DeBlasio nor the diocese spokeswoman would release any information about specific allegations against Selvaraj, who came to the diocese from India.

"A matter involving him has been referred on our office," DeBlasio said. "It came up sometime the previous week."

.She said she could not discuss any information about alleged victims, but said additional details may become available as early as today.

Diocese spokeswoman Rayanne Bennett said after a complaint against the priest was deemed credible by a review board, the diocese followed protocol set in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

That protocol was designed specifically for "complaints of a sexual nature," Bennett said.

"The terms of this particular complaint against (Selvaraj) are not something that we are able to discuss," she said. "We refrain from any types of comment that would impair the investigation."

Parishioners of the church, which also has a parochial elementary school, said they were told during services yesterday and Saturday night that Selvaraj was relieved of his priestly duties pending an investigation.

They said they were not given details about the investigation. Some parishioners said they anticipated receiving further information on his removal today.

.Selvaraj, who previously worked as an associate pastor at Blessed Sacrament Church on Bellevue Avenue in Trenton and St. Mary of the Lake in Lakewood, was removed from the parish last week. He has not been reassigned but will remain with the diocese for now, Bennett said.

"Father James has been removed from his parish and we are aware of his whereabouts," Bennett said. "We are not disclosing his whereabouts but he has been instructed to remain in the diocese."

If the allegations prove true, Selvaraj would be the 26th priest in the diocese found to have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct involving minors over the past five decades.

In 2004 the diocese announced the results of a report that found that about 2 percent of the priests in the diocese were credibly accused of sexual misconduct involving minors. The diocese paid out almost $1 million in settlements and counseling fees.

In that report, allegations of sexual abuse by 43 people against 25 priests were deemed credible. The majority of cases occurred in the 1970s and '80s, but were first reported to the diocese after 1990.

Sixteen of the priests against whom allegations were substantiated were priests of the diocese. The other nine either belonged to religious orders or were priests from other dioceses who were ministering in the Trenton Diocese.

Sixteen of the 25 were Trenton diocesan priests but by the time the report came out, five had died and the remaining 11 were no longer in the ministry. The other nine were removed from their assignments, and their diocesan privileges were taken away.

Diocese officials said they were instructed to return to their religious orders or native dioceses. The Trenton Diocese informed their superiors of the reasons for their removal from all ministry within the diocese.

Since 1993, the Trenton Diocese has had a formal policy for handling cases of sexual abuse. With the adoption of the Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children in July 2002, diocese officials said the earlier policy has been strengthened and improved.

A diocesan review board that consists mainly of lay people with expertise in the behavioral sciences, law enforcement and social work looks into any report of sexual abuse by a clergyman and makes recommendations for how the case should be handled. The diocese also has a victims' assistance coordinator to assist anyone who reports a case of abuse.

The diocese has adopted the national educational program on sexual abuse that provides training for diocesan and parish personnel entrusted with the care of children. The diocese conducts extensive background screenings and evaluations of all clergy, employees and volunteers.

The Diocese of Trenton, the 20th largest in the country with more than 750,000 members in Mercer, Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean counties, has removed five priests (including Selvaraj) from the ministry since the Bishops Charter was established.

Monsignor Manuel Fernandez of St. Mary's Cathedral of the Assumption in Trenton, Monsignor Leo Kelty of the Parish of St. William the Abbot in Howell and the Rev. Ron Becker of St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in Trenton were removed in 2002 for credible allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse toward children. At the time of his removal, Becker also worked in the diocese headquarters.

The Rev. Patrick Francis Magee of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic in Bay Head was arrested in Ireland in December 2003 after he was accused of sexually abusing a child 30 years earlier. The charges were dropped in the fall of 2004 after the accuser committed suicide.


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