Priest Charged with Endangering Welfare of Child

By Pete Daly
The Trentonian
December 2, 2005

TRENTON — A 46-year-old priest from India who had ministered at St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish was charged with endangering the welfare of a child yesterday.

Rev. James Selvaraj was barely audible as he entered a not guilty plea before Mercer County Superior Court Judge Maria Sypek and said he understood the single count against him.

Selvaraj engaged in conduct "which impaired or debauched the morals of an 11-year-old female" at the Hamilton Township parish on Sept. 28 of this year, according to the prosecutor's office.

The priest was released on his own recognizance after the hearing, but Sypek ordered he surrender his passport and said he could not leave the state without a court order.

Selvaraj, who served as a priest in the Diocese of Tuticorin, India before arriving in Trenton, was also removed from his duties by the Diocese of Trenton yesterday.

"Father Selvaraj's faculties (duties) from the Diocese of Trenton continue to be revoked and he has been removed from his assignment," a statement from Bishop John M. Smith said.

Assistant Prosecutor Robin Scheiner said after the hearing that she could not discuss the alleged incident between Selvaraj and the 11-year-old girl.

The priest was released on conditions that he have no contact with the victim or her family and that he cannot be around any children under age 18.

"The defendant can have no contact with a child either supervised or unsupervised, at any time," Scheiner said during the hearing.

Sypek underscored to the priest that he must stay away from the victim and her relatives, telling him he cannot attempt to contact her via phone, e-mail, or even through a friend.

"I don't know how else to describe it other than these people don't exist (to you)," Sypek said.

Selvaraj, who is not a U.S. citizen, turned over his passport but was allowed to keep his green card for identification purposes.

The case is scheduled to be presented to a grand jury on Jan. 11.

The priest's attorney, Marc Fliedner of Kamensky, Cohen and Associates of Trenton, said in a statement that the charge was based on "ugly motives."

"This charge is, after all, based exclusively upon a bare bones allegation which will now be tested, for the first time, at the grand jury level," Fliedner said. "There is a wealth of critical information which we are prepared to share with the prosecutor's office regarding the credibility problems and ugly motives behind these allegations."

Fliedner added Selvaraj was "deeply saddened" that Bishop Smith revoked his priestly duties.

Selvaraj himself seemed shaken during yesterday's hearing, and upon taking his seat after filing his plea, the priest buried his head in his hands as he was comforted by two supporters.

Selvaraj could be sentenced to three to five years in prison if convicted on the third-degree offense.


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