Priest sentenced to probation for molesting female parishioner
TOMS RIVER — A former priest at a Brick church was sentenced this morning to two years’ probation for groping a female parishioner.
Marukudiyil Velan, known to members of the Church of the Visitation as Father Chris, will also have to undergo counseling as part of the sentence imposed by Superior Court Judge James Blaney, who said the priest did not understand the gravity of his crime.
Convicted Oct. 16 of criminal sexual contact, Velan, 67, could have been sentenced to 18 months in prison. The judge, however, imposed a probationary sentence, as requested by his attorney.
“He has suffered immensely as a result of these charges,” his attorney, S. Karl Mohel, told Blaney. He said Velan’s health has suffered since he was charged, he’s had great expenses and he lost his job with the church.
Mohel said Velan has been living on meager Social Security disbursements and on 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 said.
But Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Terry Ann Linardakis said Velan lost his job and brought his suffering on himself because of his actions.
“It was through that job that he violated a trust,” Linardakis said. “It’s his own conduct that has put him in the position that he’s in today.”
Velan faced more serious charges at trial when prosecutors also accused him of molesting the parishioner’s two children, a daughter who was 5 at the time and a son who was 13.
He was accused of groping the girl as she sat on his lap during one of his visits to their home in July 2012. Prosecutors also charged him with molesting the teen when they were in Velan’s car on their way to McDonald’s in April 2012.
He admitted to investigators, however, that he touched the parishioner’s breast in the course of hugging her.
At trial, the jury acquitted him of the charges related to the children but convicted him of the single charge relating to their mother.
Mohel had argued at the time that the mother set up Velan so that she could get money through a lawsuit she eventually filed against him and the Diocese of Trenton.
That civil suit is still pending.
With about half a dozen supporters in the audience in the Toms River courtroom, Velan, speaking in broken English, told Blaney he wants to return to India because of the problems he has faced since the charges.
“I can’t live anymore here,” he said. “I can’t bear anymore this pain.”
And then he told Blaney, “I could not believe what happened.”
That statement did not sit well with Blaney, who reminded Velan he had admitted to investigators that he touched the woman sexually.
“You’re not seeing reality, sir,” Blaney said. “The reality is that you did something wrong.”
He said Velan had a spiritual and sacred trust with his parishioners that he violated.
“You took advantage, in this case in my opinion, of your position as a priest,” Blaney said. “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,” Blaney added. “That’s not going to help you. That’s not going to help society.”
Blaney 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 the civil suit.
Mohel said Velan cannot return to India until he completes his probation or unless Mohel can get Blaney’s order modified.
Parishioner Joanne Nebenburgh of Brick, who sat through the sentencing, was teary when talking about Velan after court.
She said Velan 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 and that’s the problem,” she said.