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Teen Tells Court of Priest Abuse

Jan 29, 2003 | AP Tears streaming down her face, a Brooklyn teenager testified yesterday that a priest fondled her nearly four years ago while visiting her ailing grandmother.

The girl, who was 12 at the time, accused the Rev. Francis X. Nelson of forcing her down on his lap before he "put his hand under my bra and touched my breasts." He later telephoned to suggest another meeting, she added.

"He said maybe one day I should come to see his room in the rectory," the girl told a jury on the first day of Nelson's trial in State Supreme Court.

Nelson, 38, has pleaded innocent to charges of sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a minor. If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail.

The case is the first to go to trial since the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens, gave prosecutors in April the names of dozens of priests accused of sexual misconduct in the past 20 years. The deal was struck amid a national outcry accusing the Roman Catholic Church of shielding wayward priests.

The girl testified that she was a lifelong member of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Brooklyn, where Nelson was a visiting cleric from the diocese of Kattar, India. The May 1999 incident allegedly occurred after Nelson came to bless the victim's grandmother, who was confined to a wheelchair.

The teen said she felt "scared," "dirty" and "embarrassed" after the incident. She told her favorite teacher and later church officials what happened - but not the police. "I didn't want to bring shame on the church," she said.

Nelson denied the allegations, but the Brooklyn diocese asked him to leave. Soon after, he received a posting in the Archdiocese of New York, where church officials say they were unaware of his past. He was dismissed in May after his arrest.

The girl said that her family was misled about the priest's whereabouts.

"We were told he went to India," she said.

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