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A Beloved Priest Accused, A Parish in Disbelief

'Fr. Chris' defended by Visitation Parish faithful

To parishioners at Church of the Visitation in Brick, it came as the shock of a lifetime.

The priest who had encouraged them through times of sadness and fear, who brought food to the local needy and who comforted those who found themselves in periods of grief – had been accused of a crime that is as depressing and disappointing as it is serious and unthinkable.

Fr. Marukudiyil C. Velan, 64, known to parishioners at the Mantoloking Road church as "Father Chris," was arrested Saturday and , one against a minor.

A garden, named for Father Chris in the back of the church's yard, was empty Tuesday afternoon, a day after his arrest became publicly known. A few tomatoes looked ripe, presumably with no one there to pick them off the vine.

Parish staff directed inquiries about the case to the Diocese of Trenton.

But the faithful flocked to Brick Patch and said the charges couldn't be true. They described how the priest they knew dropped off food at the homes of those who were hungry, prayed with sick relatives at the hospital late at night, and worked with Mother Theresa in his native India before coming to the United States.

"This man has been alone with me for counseling of my faith," said Donna Smith. "Please don't let this be another witch hunt."

A woman who only gave her name as "Adrienne" said Father Chris helped her through a family tragedy, the death of her mother.

"If it weren't [for] his words of comfort I wouldn't have made it through," she said. "Every Sunday since, my daughter and I go to Mass. He stops the procession and 'high-fives' my daughter, or we make it a point to find him to speak with [him] or simply give him a hug. Just being in his presence makes you feel better. He has a light that surrounds him."

Legal Process to Follow

The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office has not released the names of the alleged victims who filed a police report against Velan. Shield laws prevent their release. And that's a good thing, some say.

"We are very grateful to this brave family for reporting Fr. Chris’ crimes," said David Clohessy, a spokesman for the Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. "They should be commended for acting responsibly and promptly."

But some take issue with SNAP, and what they see as the organization's tendency to judge an accused priest before he is indicted or brought to trial.

"Some people jump immediately to the conclusion of guilt, and some people automatically go the other way," said David F. Pierre, Jr., a journalist based in New England who has chronicled the Roman Catholic Church's sex abuse scandals on his website, The Media Report. "People do need to know that there are false allegations out there. We hear so much about Catholic priest abuse that people tend to jump to conclusions."

Pierre said after reading media reports about the case against Velan, he was reminded of a recent case in Hawaii against Fr. Bohdan Borowec, who was accused of kidnapping and sexual assault after hugging a woman during a farewell party at a church he was visiting.

Borowec was brought to trial and found not guilty after just a few minutes of jury deliberations, Pierre said.

"What makes this case so unusual is that it's so recent," said Pierre, referring to Velan's arrest just a day after the alleged crime occurred. "Almost all of the stories we get in the news these days are priests getting arrested for things they did years ago, usually decades ago."

"This case could be all true, we don't know," he said. "But the correct approach is a cautious approach."

Nobody knows if the allegations are true, but judging from the response of parishioners, Fr. Chris maintains a high level of local support, even as he continues to sit in a cell at the Ocean County Jail in lieu of $100,000 cash bail.

"Father Chris is a man who would do anything for you," said Anna Jones, a Visitation parishioner. "You could call him at 3 a.m. for a blessing  and he would be there. He has always been there for my family."

oldsoldier July 29, 2012 at 01:17 AM
I don't think Sandusky was a priest.
Carol July 30, 2012 at 04:25 PM
It is exactly this type of person/monster who earns everybody's trust (especially a priest) and then preys on kids. I know father Chris & I've always had a weird gut feeling about him. He was always a little too touchy feely even with my two kids. I admire the courage of the woman and her son for doing what's right. forthekids - People have free will to chose to do good or evil. What a shame!
diana verderame kieffer August 01, 2012 at 10:31 AM
I have known and trusted Father Chris for a long time he has seen our family thru the crisis of death-life marraige and sacremants for my children and grandchildren I do not beleive a word of this and the rpeople should stand behind him as he has done for many of us--he is compassionate and loving and giving not a perv...lets all get together and show him some love and support do not hang him on the cross we dont know the full story and a person should be claimed innocent until proven guilty..isnt that the faith of our country...???He has been alone with me and our family on many occasions and never made a pass at us and we are a family of all females--I dont beleive a word of this....
JOHNNY Done it August 03, 2012 at 01:59 AM
Old soldier ,,May be i worded it wrong , Sanduskys position along with it comes the trust & the duty to watch out for our children ,Not to sexual assault them..Just like Father chris
JOHNNY Done it August 03, 2012 at 02:08 AM
The false ones dont get charged found guilty & sent to jail ...There has been many of them ,maybe they need to practice more religion .There was enough evidence to charge him .. Practicing religion doesnt give you pass .

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