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Priest Denies Abusing Girl, 12

Feb 3, 2003 | Newsday

A priest accused of sexually abusing a Brooklyn girl denied the allegations Monday, instead describing an innocent meeting in which the girl briefly sat on his knee before he administered sacraments to her grandmother.

Taking the witness stand in his own defense in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, the Rev. Francis Nelson said he went to the girl’s Carroll Gardens house in May 1999 to visit the ailing grandmother, who uses a wheelchair, because she was unable to attend church at St. Mary Star of the Sea, where he was assigned.

While sharing his photo album with the grandmother, he said, he asked the girl, 12, to sit on his knee so she could get a better view. There were no other chairs available, he said.

The girl later complained to her family, her teachers, and the Diocese of Brooklyn that Nelson spread his legs and inappropriately pressed his genitals into her back as he tightly held her. Nelson denied that ever happened.

Several months after the girl’s family reported the allegation to the Diocese of Brooklyn, Nelson was reassigned to a job at St. Charles Borromeo Church on West 142nd Street in Manhattan, where he was arrested last year.

Nelson, 39, said he was an administrative assistant to the bishop of his diocese in India before deciding to attend Fordham University, where he is pursuing a degree in social work. Because of his Fordham studies, he was serving as a visiting priest in Brooklyn and, later, Manhattan.

Nelson faces up to 3 years in prison if convicted on the three charges against him, two counts of sexual abuse and a count of endangering the welfare of a minor.

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