Priest: Church Funds Misappropriated
Probe Sought into Handling of Money by Former Woods Hole Pastor Bernard Kelly, Also Involved in a Murder Investigation

By Amanda Lehmer
Cape Cod Times [Woods Hole MA]
Downloaded November 19, 2003

WOODS HOLE - State Police are examining financial records at St. Joseph's Church after the Rev. Bernard Kelly admitted there was a "misappropriation of funds" while he was pastor.

Kelly, 70, has been embroiled in the murder investigation of Jonathan Wessner. He was one of the first people interviewed by police when the 20-year-old Falmouth man disappeared Sept. 20.

Kelly admitted to Fall River Diocese Bishop George Coleman that there was a "misappropriation." Coleman then asked Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe to investigate.

It is too early to say whether criminal charges will be forthcoming or whether "misappropriation" meant Kelly stole the money, said John Kearns, spokesman for the Fall River Diocese, yesterday.

A private accounting firm is conducting a complete audit of the parish's finances, he said.

Kelly and his attorney, Francis O'Boy, could not be reached for comment.

Kelly officially resigned from the diocese effective today. The resignation comes after Coleman removed him from the Woods Hole church last month as investigators questioned Kelly about Wessner's alleged murderer, Paul Nolin.

Kelly befriended convicted child rapist Nolin, 39, whowas a church handyman and parishioner, according to Nolin's attorney. But some churchgoers have said they never saw Nolin at the tiny congregation.

After Kelly was placed on leave, Coleman traveled to the small church to reassure parishioners. During his visit, parishioners asked him to audit church financial records, Kearns said.

But last Friday, before the audit could be completed, "Bishop Coleman learned from Father Kelly through his attorney that there was, in fact, a misappropriation of funds," according to a statement released by the diocese.

That same day the bishop asked O'Keefe to join the investigation.

The Rev. Joseph Mauritzen, the new pastor of St. Joseph's, shared the news with parishioners at all masses last weekend.

Kearns said the "misappropriation" did not extend beyond St. Joseph's to other parishes where Kelly was pastor. The audit will examine records from the six years Kelly worked in Woods Hole, Kearns said.

Kelly also worked at parishes in Hyannis, Wellfleet and Martha's Vineyard.

Parishes have finance committees that monitor funds, Kearns said. Churches must report finances to the chancellery throughout the year, but audits are done only when requested.

Patricia Kerfoot, head of the St. Joseph parish council, said Kelly did not provide detailed yearly financial reports or totals of special collections to parishioners when he first became pastor. But over the last three years he did make public parish financial reports, she said.

There was some concern, she said, that Kelly wasn't properly maintaining church grounds and buildings, she said. Nobody at the church knew Kelly had hired Nolin to be a handyman.

Kerfoot is curious about what the audit will reveal.

"I think what is being done through the diocese is exactly what should be done. It's the only thing that can be done. You audit the books. I think the way the bishop is handling it is very good," she said.

In the meantime, the murder investigation continues. Investigators will summon Kelly and his friend, the Rev. Donald Turlick, to testify before a Barnstable County grand jury this week, a source said.

Wessner was last seen leaving a party in Falmouth with Nolin in the early hours of Sept. 20.

Witnesses said Nolin asked Wessner to watch the sunrise from the St. Joseph's bell tower.

Wessner's partially buried body was found on a Woods Hole beach Oct. 4.

A witness told police that he drove Nolin from Brockton to St. Joseph's, where his car was parked the day Wessner was killed.

O'Keefe summonsed Kelly to testify before the grand jury, which he did two weeks ago. He told the jury he could not testify because of the priest-penitent privilege. The law allows priests to keep secret what is told to them by someone in confession or seeking spiritual guidance.

But a Superior Court judge compelled Kelly to tell what he knew, with the exception of possible confessions.

Turlick, 68, a friend of Kelly's since the pair attended seminary together in Maryland about 40 years ago, was Nolin's therapist while he was in a state treatment facility for the sexually dangerous in Bridgewater.

Nolin moved to Turlick's Mashpee home when he was released from prison in June 2000. Turlick introduced Nolin to Kelly. The three socialized, and Kelly had a birthday party for Nolin at his expansive home and horse farm in Cummaquid.

Investigators say Kelly admitted to having a sexual relationship with Nolin, but both men's attorneys deny the allegation.

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