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Diocese Prompted DAs Futile Search For Priest

Jan 31, 2003 | Newsday

The Brooklyn district attorney's office searched Internet sites worldwide last year in a vain attempt to find an accused priest because the Diocese of Brooklyn told them the priest had left the country, according to court testimony yesterday.

The Rev. Francis Nelson was really in Manhattan. Brooklyn church officials now acknowledge they knew Nelson had found employment there after they banished him in 1999, when he was accused of sexually molesting a 12-year-old female parishioner.

Testifying yesterday in the third day of Nelson's sex abuse trial in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, Det. Quentin Sica said diocesan officials told his office last year that Nelson went back to his native India. That's where Sica began a search for Nelson, looking for him on Roman Catholic Internet sites there, he testified.

It was only after Sica asked the financial crimes unit in the district attorney's office to run a database search for all Francis Nelsons residing in New York that he found the accused priest living at St. Charles Borromeo Church on West 142nd Street in Manhattan.

Nelson, 39, surrendered to authorities in May outside the Harlem church, three years after he allegedly molested the girl, a parishioner at St. Mary Star of the Sea church in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, his previous assignment.

He has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges of sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a minor. If convicted, he would face up to 1 year in prison on each of three counts against him.

In testimony earlier this week, two priests from the Diocese of Brooklyn said they were aware in 1999 that Nelson was attending Fordham University and would be working at a Manhattan parish until his return to India. In fact, the church bulletin at St. Mary's said they would forward correspondence to him.

Nelson was among the priests whose names were turned over to prosecutors last year as part of an agreement with the Brooklyn diocese, which includes Queens.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, which governs the parish where Nelson worked in Harlem, has said it did not know of the accusation against Nelson until the night before he was arrested.

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