Diocese Big Shot Should Be Here

By Jimmy Breslin
February 3, 2003

At the start of this, I am on the elevator in the criminal court building in Brooklyn, going to a third floor court, which I find gets moved up to the ninth, and on the way up, I stop at the fifth, where there is another case. What I am doing? I am reporting on a day in which two Catholic priests are in the building as defendants on the same day.

The elevator is so crowded that the only way to get on is to push flagrantly and act innocent. The elevator stops at every floor. I go from the lobby to the third, find out I am wrong, and I need the ninth. What I do is go up to the fifth floor first, which takes the longest minutes and go to the court there.

In the hall outside the courtroom, a lawyer is talking to a woman.

"How can my husband have seven charges?" she says.

"Well," the lawyer starts.

"He only robbed the store once," she says.

"Yes, but when he robbed the furniture store, he also robbed seven customers who were there. So they say each person he robbed is a crime."

"That's not fair," she says. "He just robbed the furniture store once."

The courtroom is as crowded as an elevator. There are people under arrest taking up the spectators' seats. I wind up on a seat in front. I don't know if it's a regular bench or a packing case. I am in so tight, and now in front me a lawyer is up and he is saying to the judge:

"I am told that my client wants to relieve me as his attorney. I advised my client that I felt the case would be very difficult to win. I don't think we can win it. I advised him to accept the district attorney's plea offer."

A short man jumps up. He is in the first row, down by the door, and he shouts at the judge:

"I don't want him for my lawyer. He says I'm going to lose. I want a lawyer who says I'm going to win."

There is a thin man sitting alone in he last row. He wears a gray suit that looks like a religious streetwear. I go back and ask him if he is Cyriacus Udegbulem.

"You are a journalist, you can find out who I am," he says.

He is waiting for his lawyer and it looks like it is a long wait.

He is here from Nigeria, of color, charged with raping a woman at Our Lady of Charity church on Dean Street.

I take the elevator up to the fifth floor and go into the courtroom where the second priest, Francis Nelson, is on the calendar. The place is empty.

He was there Monday, on trial, Father Francis Nelson. He is from India. He, too, is of color.

Out of this great scandal that has shattered so much of the Catholic church, Brooklyn is able to come up with two people of color and from real neighborhoods, Lagos and Bombay. What is Flatbush? We got the Ganges. One wonders if any Brooklyn Irish say Thanksgiving prayers for their escapes.

Certainly, missing from the courtroom is the Diocese of Brooklyn big shots. The Bishop's lawyer told prosecutors that he thought Nelson was in India. Meanwhile, in Nelson's former parish on Court Street they were told that letters would reach Nelson at a parish in Harlem. Which is where he was for a few years.

Father Nelson is charged with three counts of sexual abuse, misdemeanors, and one of endangering the welfare of a child. Obstruction of justice by the Diocese officials is a far more serious charge.

The child was 12 we can't name victim of sex crime here when Nelson came to her house and sat her on his knee or lap. "I said, no," the girl, now 15, said on the witness stand the other day. "But he took me by the forearm and placed me on his legs...and opened his legs."

She was crying as she spoke.

"He began pulling me into his groin and had his head on my back. He was breathing heavy and sweating."

She then said that he again pulled her on his lap and reached under her shirt and bra and felt her breasts.

Nelson came on the stand Monday to refute this. He is a dark man with a mob of jet black hair. He spoke forcefully and he defended himself ably. His lawyer, Michael Warren, was unsure about putting him on, but Monday it looked like a good move. However, you sure don't know how the jury regards all the details.

Nelson, in a strong voice with an accent under control, said that he had been in charge of altar servers at St. Mary's Star of the Sea church on Court Street. There were 21 names of young people signed up for altar servers and only one had an address that couldn't be read, Nelson said.

The phone number was clear. Nelson called her about the address. Then he called her again and she told him that her grandmother was sick. He said that he would come around and visit her.

Her mother claims she told him, no, not to come. Monday, he said she didn't. He came and saw the sick grandmother and wound up with the girl on his knee. Later, he called the house a third time. He said it's something a priest always does after a visit with the sick. The prosecutors said it was a standard male move. Always call.

Then somebody whispered that in the next room, the jury was coming in on the murder case of a Russian killing a stripper. A prostitute had been the damaging witness. Everybody wanted to leave the Nelson trial to go in and catch the verdict, which was guilty.

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