Marukudiyil Velan, 67, former Catholic priest at the Church of the Visitation in Brick in Toms River, New Jersey was sentenced to two years' probation for groping a female parishioner, but cleared on more serious charges of molesting her children, the Star Ledger reported.
Superior Court Judge James Blaney ordered him to undergo counseling as part of the sentence saying that the priest did not understand the gravity of his crime.
The judge also ordered Velan to undergo a mental health evaluation and to have no contact with the woman or her family except for any legal proceedings in a civil suit, she filed against him and the Diocese of Trenton.
Known as Father Chris, he was convicted last year of criminal sexual contact. He faced 18 months in prison, but the judge showed leniency.
Velan was charged in July 2012 with molesting a mother and her two children on different occasions, including once when he molested all three during the same day, reports said. Velan was at their residence delivering food since the family was poor and needed assistance.
Velan’s attorney S Karl Mohel pointed out that the group had dinner together after the alleged molestation took place. He also argued a confession by the priest was due nto coercion as the detectives screamed and forced the priest, till he gave an answer they wanted. According to the police he admitted touching the parishioner's breast in the course of hugging her.
Velan maintained his innocence throughout the trial. A group of parishioners supporter him.
Attorney Mohel said his client had suffered immensely as a result of the charges. He Velan lost his priesthood and job with the church and spent all he had for legal expenses. He now lives on Social Security and charity.
‘It's taken a toll on his life. He dreams to return to his home in India and make a new life there,’ Mohel told the judge.
But Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Terry Ann Linardakis said Velan lost his job and brought his suffering on himself because of his actions.
The jury acquitted him of the serious charges of allegations of molesting the parishioner's daughter who was 5 and a son who was 13 then.
The charge sheet said he groped the girl as she sat on his lap during one of his visits to their home in July 2012. He was also accused of molesting the teen when they were in Velan's car on their way to McDonald's in April 2012.
Attorney Mohel argued that the mother set up Velan so that she could get money through a lawsuit she filed against him and the Diocese of Trenton, which is still pending.
A shaken Velan told the court that he wanted to return to India. ‘I can't live anymore here. I can't bear anymore this pain. I could not believe what happened.’
But the judge said that he had admitted to police that he touched the woman sexually.
‘You're not seeing reality, sir. The reality is that you did something wrong.’ The judge said. ‘You took advantage, in this case in my opinion, of your position as a priest. You took advantage of that position and violated that trust. That's wrong.
‘You can't keep saying that you didn't do anything wrong. That's not going to help you. That's not going to help society.’
Velan cannot return to India until he completes his probation or unless the judge modifies his order, according to his attorney.
Parishioner Joanne Nebenburgh was teary when she spoke about him after the sentencing, according to reports. She said he responded to any requests for help from parishioners by giving them food or visiting them in the hospital at any time of day or night. ‘He's just a good man. That's the problem - he's too good.’
Mohel, outside the courtroom, said he still believes in his client's innocence, according to a report in Asbury Park Press. ‘I think he was a victim of a cold, orchestrated plan to bleed the diocese of money,’ the defense attorney said of his client.’
‘We are sad that Father Marukudiyil Velan, known as 'Father Chris,' will not do jail time,’' David Clohessy, director of the St. Louis, Missouri-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said in the statement. ‘But we are grateful to the brave family that reported this priest's crimes. And we are confident that this mom's courage to speak up and seek justice will protect more people.’