Falsely Accused Priest: ‘My Life Has Been Ruined’

Six years after the ridiculous accusation that he “touched [a] child in a public setting,” Father James Selvaraj is still fighting to clear his name.

Fr. Selvaraj told Erin Duffy of The Times (Trenton, New Jersey) (Tue.,1/3/12) that he is still publicly stigmatized as an accused molester.

Because searches of him on Google return articles about his accusation, "I’m branded as if I’m a pedophile," the priest says. "[M]y life has been ruined."

Fr. Selvaraj is a native of India, and the Diocese of Trenton refuses to incardinate him because of the old accusation against him. Fr. Selvaraj first arrived in Trenton in 1999.

In fact, the accusation against Rev. Selvaraj appears to border on the absurd. The Times reported:

[O]n Sept. 28, 2005, [Fr. Selvaraj] was milling around at an after-school program at the Saint Raphael School. Earlier in the day, he’d visited a few religion classes at the request of the school, at one point showing students how to write in his native language, Tamil.

At the after-school program, he helped an 11-year-old girl write her name in Tamil, according to a school volunteer’s sworn statement in excerpts from a deposition Selvaraj provided. He took her hand and stood behind her as he showed her how to form the letters on a chalkboard. Other parents, teachers and students were present, even the girl’s mother, he said. No one complained.

The next morning he was called in by the school’s vice principal, who told Selvaraj the girl’s mother was accusing him of molesting her daughter.

That’s it, folks.

It was for this flimsy accusation that authorities charged him with a count of “endangerment of a child,” which may have carried a three-to-five year prison sentence.

In February 2006, a grand jury reviewed the case, and it found no reason to continue with the charges. (This is notable and important. It has often been said, “A grand jury would indict a ham sandwich.”)

“I took sworn statements from a number of people who saw what happened and provided them to the prosecutor’s office, and several of them were subpoenaed to testify,” the priest’s defense attorney said after the grand jury’s decision. “Obviously, we’re happy.”

So decrepit were the charges against the priest that an attorney general took the uncommon measure of completely “expung[ing] his record, leaving no formal trace of the accusation or charge levied against him.”

Yet the Diocese of Trenton wants Fr. Selvaraj to return to his native India, against his wishes.

How has this happened? Ms. Duffy at the Times hits the nail on the head.

Accused of moving too slowly for decades as clergy molested teens and children, the Catholic church adopted a zero-tolerance policy in its 2002 charter on child sex abuse. Now some supporters of accused priests say the church has adopted a knee-jerk reaction to all allegations, removing priests and allowing them to languish in limbo even if charges of sex abuse are found to be unsubstantiated.

“Even if it’s a he-said, she-said, people automatically believe the accuser, not the priest,” said Thomas Plante, a psychologist and a professor at Santa Clara University in California who has worked with accused priests and dioceses since the 1980s …

“The church in America and elsewhere too, is very, very nervous and they don’t want to take any chances, so they say rather be safe than sorry,” Plante said.

Article 5 of the 2002 USCCB “Dallas Charter” (The United States bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People") clearly states,

"If the allegation is deemed not substantiated, every step possible is to be taken to restore [the priest's] good name, should it have been harmed."

Sadly, it seems that this protocol is not being followed in the case of Rev. James Selvaraj.