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NEW YORK (AP) _ A longtime cantor at one of the nation's largest and most prominent Reform synagogues has been released on bail following his arrest on charges he sexually abused a nephew.

Howard Nevison, 61, of Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, was ordered by a judge to surrender his passport and told he can leave the city only to turn himself over to authorities in Pennsylvania, where he was charged.

A defense lawyer said Nevison would fight extradition and said he was confident Nevison would be exonerated

Police in Lower Merion, a suburb of Philadelphia, charged Nevison with sexually assaulting the nephew on three occasions between 1993 and 1997 while the boy was 3 to 7 years old.

Nevison was arrested at his New York apartment early Wednesday. Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Arlene Goldberg released Nevison on $100,000 bond after an evening court appearance.

Lawrence Nevison, 55, who is Howard Nevison's brother and also an uncle of the boy, and Lawrence Nevison's son, Stewart, 30, were previously convicted of molesting the youngster in unrelated incidents.

The boy testified against Lawrence Nevison at trial, but until October was afraid to confront his other uncle, authorities said.

``Like anyone else, we in law enforcement tend to believe that religious figures are beyond reproach. You want to make very sure before you go accusing one,'' said District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr.

Howard Nevison faces charges including involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and indecent assault. He could face 27 1/2 to 55 years in prison.

Police have known about the allegations since about 1998, but did not pursue charges until the victim, who was undergoing therapy, was ready to confront the uncle, Castor said.

``He had terrorized the child to the point that, in the judgment of his parents, his therapists and our investigators, he was too traumatized to go forward,'' Castor said.

The cantor, who allegedly molested the boy, now 12, during visits to the family's home, is due in court again in Manhattan on March 19 for an extradition hearing.

``These are stale allegations that the district attorney's office has known about for three years,'' said defense lawyer Ralph Jacobs, of Philadelphia. ``The memories and the motivation and the timing of all of that will come out at trial.''

Nevison has been the cantor at the temple since 1978. A cantor leads a congregation in song, while the rabbi is the spiritual leader. In April 1994, he became the first cantor to sing at the Vatican.

Synagogue officials issued a statement supporting Nevison.

``The cantor has been a faithful servant to our congregation for 23 years, and never in all of that time has there been any suggestion of improper behavior on his part,'' the statement read.

Several visibly shaken congregants leaving the temple following a service Wednesday evening declined to comment on the allegations.

Temple Emanu-El was founded in 1845 as New York City's first Reform congregation. It lists a membership of some 3,000 families, including many of the city's wealthiest and most prominent.

Some published reports said Castor questioned the role in the bail matter of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who is a trustee of Temple Emanu-El.

``I felt the DA should have advanced our interests,'' Castor said Thursday, adding that his office was never notified of the decision not to fight for higher bail.

However, he added: ``I have no reason to suspect anything improper was done.''

Morgenthau spokeswoman Barbara Thompson said her office told the judge Montgomery County had asked that bail be set at $500,000, and that the matter was handled ``in a routine fashion.'' She said that Morgenthau knew the cantor but that they were not friends.

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Synagogue: http://www.emanuelnyc.org/