Changing Church Story
Official: Diocese Knew Accused Priest Was Still in NY

By Stephanie Saul
January 30, 2003

Reversing earlier official statements, a diocesan chancellor testified yesterday that Brooklyn church officials knew a priest accused of sexual abuse had gotten a job in the Archdiocese of New York.

The Rev. Andrew Vaccari, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, said he was aware the Rev. Francis Nelson, 39, had a new assignment in Manhattan after his 1999 departure from St. Mary Star of the Sea in Carroll Gardens, where he was accused of molesting a 12-year-old girl.

Vaccari's testimony in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, as well as a similar statement by St. Mary's pastor, the Rev. Thomas Doyle, contradicted diocesan officials who said last year that they believed Nelson headed back to his home country of India following his banishment from Brooklyn.

Instead, he shuttled across the East River.

A dispute remains, meanwhile, over whether Brooklyn officials warned the archdiocese about the accusations.

Frank DeRosa, the Brooklyn diocese spokesman, said Vaccari wrote the archdiocese a letter warning them in August 1999. A spokesman for the archdiocese, Joe Zwilling, said they did not receive a copy of that letter until May, via fax, the night before Nelson's arrest.

"We would not, were not, taking priests who had anything in their backgrounds," Zwilling said.

Nelson surrendered to authorities at his Harlem parish, St. Charles Borromeo on West 141st Street, in connection with the alleged 1999 molestation.

He has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges.

Vaccari, testifying at Nelson's trial yesterday, said he investigated the allegations that Nelson made the girl sit on his lap, pressed against her inappropriately and fondled her breasts when he visited the girl's ailing grandmother in their Brooklyn home.

The girl's family asked that Nelson be removed from the church, but Vaccari said the family did not want him arrested for fear it would harm the church.

The allegations came to light last year after the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens, gave prosecutors the names of dozens of priests accused of sexual misconduct in the past 20 years.

Lila Ezra, the girl's guidance counselor at the Brooklyn School for Global Studies in Cobble Hill, also testifying yesterday, said the girl came to her office very upset late in spring 1999.

"She told me she had been sexually molested by a priest in her home," Ezra said.

The girl, now 16, testified tearfully about the alleged abuse

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