“Priest accused” struggles to clear his name

He was cleared of charges against him — but hasn’t had much luck having his reputation cleared, as well.


In 2005, as the Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis continued to grab headlines all over America, even the St. Raphael-Holy Angels parish was not immune to scandal.

One of their own priests was accused of improperly touching a young girl.

Among parishioners, there was anger, confusion, despair. A tragedy playing out in communities across the country had now spread to a close-knit parish in Hamilton.

But a curious thing happened: Instead of turning their backs on the accused, the Rev. James Selvaraj, parishioners rallied to his defense.

“No one ever questioned anything about it, they just knew this man and knew it was wrong,” parishioner Frank Hamilton said. “The support and the people that came out — you’re talking a whole church community behind him.”

Supporters signed petitions, phoned the Trenton diocese and had fundraisers for Selvaraj’s legal defense.

That was six years ago. Today, their faith in Selvaraj remains as unwavering as ever.

It’s support that Selvaraj, 51, has been forced to lean on since he was first accused in 2005 and stripped of his priestly faculties in the Diocese of Trenton. Without a job or income, he has depended on financial support from parishioners, who have raised tens of thousands of dollars for his legal and living expenses.

A guest priest originally from India, Selvaraj was ordered back to his native country by then-Bishop John M. Smith. In a recent ruling the Vatican sided with the diocese, saying it handled Selvaraj’s case properly. Priests are expected to defer to and obey the decisions of their bishop.

Selvaraj has steadfastly refused to leave, though, and has spent the last six years on a crusade to clear the name and reputation he says was smeared.

How can he move on to a new job or parish after being tarred as an abuser, a molester, he asks?

“For nothing, I’m being crucified and it’s dragged on for six years,” he said. “It bothers me very much. I gave my life to this church and they don’t even have the conscience to restore my good name and dignity.”

Read about the accusation and what happened here.

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21 responses to ““Priest accused” struggles to clear his name”

  1. Sometimes people look for something from someone who can’t give it. Since Fr. Selvaraj is not a priest of the Diocese of Trenton, that diocese can’t issue a statement (to whom?) that he is a priest in good standing. His own diocese (in India) is the one that can properly do that, it seems to me.

  2. This story is not unique. I personally know another priest in the same situation, with the same kind of parish support, who is in limbo because his diocese and his religious order won’t help him even though there is evidence of his innocence (they don’t want SNAP on their doorstep and don’t want the negative publicity). It is very sad that some priests must suffer this.

  3. Instead of turning their backs on the accused, the Rev. James Selvaraj, parishioners rallied to his defense.

    This is not curious at all. This is the norm. While much easier said than done, people really need to stop thinking that sexual abusers wear name tags or are otherwise easily identifiable. It would be better for all parties involved if we stopped acting as if people accused of sexual assault or other misconduct were obviously guilty or obviously innocent. We do not in fact know he is innocent of the charges. We also do not in fact know that he is guilty. A grand jury found insufficient evidence to move forward. Unfortunately, this is also likely to be the extent of our knowledge.

  4. Guilty or not guilty: we do not know. I’ve known more lay people than priests who have worked for the Church who have been maligned by clergy, parishioners, or people just plain out to get them. They’re not as lucky as this priest; they don’t have a home diocese to which to return.

    Sometimes, injustice happens and there’s not much to be done about it. Sometimes the bear gets you and it’s best to move on.

  5. So what does this priest expect the diocese to do, exactly? It sounds like they have already made it very clear in writing that he is a priest in good standing and that he was not found criminally liable for anything by the legal system. It sounds like he’s just angling to hang on in this country for the prospect of a better paycheck and standard of living, quite honestly.

    If he expects a bishop to apologize for ever investigating the allegation or exercising caution by removing him from ministry for a time, he’d best not hold his breath. If he wants an outlet for his anger, he ought to look to some of his brother priests, and even more so the great bulk of bishops who for decades enabled flagrant and obvious abusers. Their track record of behavior precludes any possibility of extending a generous benefit of doubt to accused priests these days.

  6. Kenneth, you keep pushing this same line on the bishops with language like this:

    “the great bulk of bishops”

    I think you have been challenged on this language and asked to name them. If one says the “great bulk” one would assume this to be at least the majority of bishops involved. I can think of a few, but far from what you constantly push.

  7. We do not in fact know he is innocent of the charges. We also do not in fact know that he is guilty.

    If you had read the whole story, you would know that we DO know in fact that he is “guilty” of “the charges.” In this particular situation “the charges” are that he touched a girl’s hand with his hand, in a completely appropriate manner, for a completely innocent purpose, in a room full of other adults and children who thought nothing of the act.

    The Church claims that it has zero tolerance for priests sexually abusing minors. There are FOUR requirements in that: 1) priest, 2) sexual, 3) abuse, 4) minor. It appears from this case that the zero tolerance is simply for any priest having any interaction with any minor at all, no matter if everyone agrees on exactly what happened, and no matter how non-sexual and/or non-abusive what happened was.

  8. In saying “the great bulk” of bishops dropped the ball, I’m being charitable. Every serious and credible panel of experts who has looked at the issue in the past 20 years has found widespread and systematic and grievous deficiencies in how the Church leadership – essentially the bishops, has handled the issue.

    I would (and have) issued the challenge to the bishop’s apologists in this issue to produce even ONE verifiable case where a bishop proactively did the right thing purely of his own volition BEFORE the heat was on from law enforcement, the media, victim’s attorneys, what have you. That means doing the right thing even when no one was looking.

    By the right thing, I mean referring the case to the proper law enforcement authorities, treating victims properly, informing parishioners and removing the priest from ANY unsupervised contact with minors pending the investigation. I’m envisioning a case where any group of REASONABLE people, Catholic and non-Catholic, would look at the facts and say “you know what, this guy really did the best that could be done and clearly with the primary concern of doing right by victims and keeping kids safe.”

    What I did see, time and time and time again in 15 years as a news reporter, were bishops who did the absolute bare minimum with disclosure and justice as they thought they could justify and get away with. Even years after drafting very sensible and progressive policies on the matter, they ALWAYS took the weasel way out. There was always an attorney’s read of why “must report” didn’t really mean that in this case. The Bill Clinton semantic game of “what IS is…”

    I get a lot of flak on this issue where people call me “anti-Catholic”, but for all the bluster and indignation, I’ve yet to have anyone produce such an example in the decade or so I’ve been raising the issue online. That being the case, I find it real hard to swallow your implication that the majority of bishops did the right thing or that I’m somehow grossly mis-characterizing the scope and nature of the problem.

  9. Had you been a Bishop you would have handled the cases exactly the same way. You would have sent the priest for “treatment” which the doctors said would solve the issue and return the priest to ministry. Your self-righteous hindsight is sickening.

  10. Speaking from within the Church, I’ll echo that it would seem the great bulk of bishops mishandled sex predators. Otherwise smart guys like Archbishop George ignored the best advice their own review boards gave them. Bishops Finn and Walsh were charged with crimes and given agreements to avoid prosecution or prison.

    These and other instances spark serious doubts about what did other bishops not do that the public does not know about.

    When you add to the mix the pressure on a bishop to resign for just wanting to discuss things not practiced in the clergy, the reluctance of accepting Cardinal Law’s resignation, what other conclusion can we draw when it comes to the pope, the curia, and the Congregation of Bishops? They seem focused on human-made rules. On sex with consenting women, of course. But apparently not the defense of the innocent from brother priests who are sex predators and addicts. This is a grave scandal, unresolved, that ultimately harms the spread of the gospel and undermines evangelization, new or otherwise.

    It is difficult to get excited over the case of a visiting priest who apparently is no longer welcome to exercise ministry in his diocese of residence. Go home, Father. Serve your own bishop and his people. Build your reputation in humble service, not in the outrage of ego.

  11. It is getting to the point that any priest who shakes hands, hugs or comes within 5 feet of anyone is nuts. Not to mention ever sitting in a confessional face to face with anyone. They can be accused of anything with no means of proving otherwise.

  12. I always thought bishops, not psychologists, were responsible for the bottom-line moral leadership of the Church. It’s funny how bishops only defer judgement to the psychiatry profession on this one issue. They don’t seem to fall in line with the medical profession’s mindset on, say, gay marriage. When the college of Cardinals goes into conclave, are their votes ratified by mental health professionals?

    At any rate, your effort to diffuse responsibility for these crimes falls short. There were, of course good-faith errors made in this regard in the bad old days. There were hundreds more cases where bishops clearly did not believe abusers were cured and did not even go so far as to try. They simply hushed the matter up and sent them to a fresh unwitting parish with fresh unwitting victims. It also falls short because many of the most sickening cases I have in mind didn’t happen in the “bad old days” of 1963. I’m talking about cases that happened within the last couple of years. Many of the most egregious failings have been happening LONG after bishops were able to claim plausible ignorance of the issue.

  13. Grand juries are not typically summoned when one person disagrees with a room full of people over the nature of an act.

    The reality of today is that adult males should avoid spontaneous interactions with children. Admittedly, patterns of abuse rarely involve strangers, but one can’t control the moral panic.

  14. “They don’t seem to fall in line with the medical profession’s mindset on, say, gay marriage”

    I prefer to fall in line with what Jesus said about marriage not what shrinks say. The shrinks changed their views on the issue. They used to call it a mental disorder until the agenda was pushed hard enough.

  15. Since much abuse if within the family, are you advocating that fathers or grandfathers do not have spontaneous interaction with their children? For years, we have heard men as fathers did not show their affection to their children and needed to be more compasionate and loving both physically and verbally.

  16. Kenny, “In saying “the great bulk” of bishops dropped the ball, I’m being charitable.”
    First of all, you are changing your line on what you accused the great bulk of bishops to have done. In your comment, you said “the great bulk of bishops who for decades enabled flagrant and obvious abusers” and now you want to lessen it to “dropped the ball.” When one says dropped the ball, that could mean anything from failing to answer an email among hundreds a day or missing a meeting and getting called on either years later. So admit you were wrong that a bulk of bishops for decades “enabled flagrant and obvious abusers” or provide the list. Given they fact that there are hundreds of dioceses and we are talking of abuse over 50 years, I would bet we are dealing with a couple thousand bishops so a great bulk of those who enabled flagrant and obvious abusers should be one with at least 1000 names but how about 100 who are known to fit this catagory

    Then you bring out the ‘experts say’ line without links or names. I would like to see where some expert by name shows that a “great bulk” of the bishops. What a joke. How about naming the experts that say the great bulk of bishops enabled flagrant and obvious abusers.

    And your buddies below in Todd who echo’d your claim can add his list to show this great bulk of those who enabled flagrant and obvious abusers. Even the three names he provided would not really fit this catagory but even if they do, he is hundreds short of this idiotic claim.

    If one lists the priest abusers by dioceses, I doubt you even have abusers in many of the diocese which would have required action by the bulk. Remember, we only had about 2-3% of all the priests who abused anyone. common sense would tell us that the bulk of bishops were thus not even in need of doing anything. The USCCB should have done more as an organization to attack the problem because any scandal with a priest should have serious attention, even when it is a very low percentage.

    So name the names using your original criteria for your attack that they enabled flagrant and obvious abusers and stop trying to hide behind idiotic distortions.

    You say name someone who did the right thing. I can name multiple hundreds of bishops who did not have to do anything that truly make up the bulk of the bishops and who might have done the right thing upfront in their seminaries to keep those prone to this type thing out of the priesthood.

    I am shocked that Deacon Greg allows this awful lie to be put on his blog without comment or does he agree with it?

  17. By “great bulk of bishop” I would clarify that to mean the great bulk, no, essentially ALL of that subset of bishops who were confronted with abuse in the past half century, failed miserably by any reasonable standard.

    Is that equal to all of the bishops who served in that time period? No, but I would venture to say that very few bishops escaped the issue in their careers. Certainly no bishop of any major metropolitan region can plausibly claim that they had no such problem on their watch. Every last one of them whose handling of the issue has come to light and has been documented, has failed miserably by any reasonable standard.

    Are there some who maybe really did do the right thing and never got credit? There may well be, but like I say, no one’s been able to produce that, and in any case, they would have been the exception to the rule. The overwhelming inertia of the culture of upper leadership has favored secrecy and a contempt of accountability. The result has been active complicity in evil and criminality, justified in the name of “avoiding scandal.”

    That fact is not in dispute among ANY of the commissions who have looked into the issue, including those appointed by the Church itself. The billions of dollars in legal payouts and the shelf-miles of the Church’s own documents stand testament to this fact. So do the Church’s own policies. Some of them date to the 1980s and quite clearly acknowledge the far reaching and grave nature of the problem. Even with that in place, bishops chose to do the wrong thing time and again. It is not ancient history. Bishop Finn is accused of deliberately concealing the crimes of a priest LAST YEAR!. The pattern of his case is not the exception. It is the rule. It will continue to be the rule until leadership is held accountable both by the legal system, and more importantly by their own flock.

  18. I think I’m detecting a whiff of exaggeration on this. As a male employee of the church for well over two decades, I like to think I know how to have positive, constructive relationships with children. I simply don’t put myself in a situation with children or with single women where there’s a question.

    I’ve known priests and the occasional lay person, who was socially challenged (let’s say) and struggled to find the right balance.

    Now, the priest who liked to have tickle fights with servers or the guy who wanted “help” to tie his cincture: these people may not have been abusers or predators. But you don’t do nutty things with kids like that. You just don’t. Not even in a busy vestibule.

    Hand to hand contact. Hand on shoulder. These are good.

    Hand on ribs. Not good. Insisting the server put arms around the priest’s waist. Not good. Wanting “private time” to pray with the servers before Mass. Not good.

    We need socially mature guys in the priesthood.

  19. Keep trying to change what you posted without acknowledging that what you posted was pretty close to a condemnation of the vast majority who you said are bishops who over a 60 year period were enablers and had covered up.

    Now you are trying to say those confronted with the issue did not handle it well. That is far from your first post and one which most would agree. But not handling it well does not mean the bulk of all bishops “for decades enabled flagrant and obvious abusers”. Even the ones who confronted the issue and did not handle it well were not in the catagory of being a flagrant enabler of obvious abusers.” I suspect some of them were close calls and some were confronted years later beyond statute of limitations and often after the priest was retired. In fact, I would be going by your criteria that they were “flagrant enablers or those who were obvious abusers” would probably be in the minority of those who dropped the ball. Words matter and when you use them and then try to backpeddle, why not simple say what you posted was massively incorrect.

    Again you say commissions and this time say all commissions but do not post one that says that the bulk of all bishops were “for decades enabled flagrant and obvious abusers.” Come on Kenneth, how about just one commission that made this statement in your words.

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