Disgraced Priest Avoids Jail Term for Embezzling
By Amanda Lehmert
Cape Cod Times
December 2, 2006
Barnstable - A retired priest pleaded guilty yesterday to embezzling more than $500,000 from a Woods Hole church in what the prosecutor called a "wholesale looting."
The Rev. Bernard Kelly, 73, was sentenced in Barnstable Superior Court to seven years of probation for embezzling from St. Joseph's Church in Woods Hole and filing false tax returns.
At the plea hearing, Judge Richard Connon chided Kelly for committing the kinds of "evils" he was charged with ridding from the world.
"Mr. Kelly has brought shame upon himself and his family and his church," Connon said.
In October, Kelly paid $1.5 million to the Catholic Fall River Diocese as a settlement offer for money he stole from St. Joseph's and Our Lady of Lourdes in Wellfleet.
The criminal charges against Kelly surfaced after he was interviewed by police investigating the murder of Jonathan Wessner in 2003.
Investigators said Kelly had a sexual relationship with Wessner's convicted murderer, Paul Nolin.
When Kelly retired in November 2003, he admitted to the diocese he had misappropriated church funds.
In court yesterday, prosecutor Robert Welsh explained how Kelly used St. Joseph's bank account to write about $380,000 in checks to himself or to "cash" between 1999 and 2003.
Kelly kept his head down as Welsh detailed how the priest used the money to pay bills at Sears, Brooks Brothers and a hardware store, and to pay his excise taxes. He spent $17,000 worth of church money to pay off his Lincoln Town Car, Welsh said.
The criminal charges against Kelly do not include any money taken from Our Lady of Lourdes, where Kelly was pastor until 1997, because the statute of limitations for potential charges prior to 1999 had expired.
Yesterday in court, Welsh asked Connon to sentence Kelly to two years in jail.
"This was a wholesale looting," Welsh said of Kelly's theft. "It was not an aberration of his character to take this money. This was the norm."
But Kelly's attorney, Francis O'Boy, argued for leniency, given Kelly's age. He also noted the $1.5 million in restitution to the Fall River Diocese.
The payment was a settlement in the diocese's civil case against the priest. The $1.5 million includes restitution for money missing from St. Joseph's and Our Lady of Lourdes in Wellfleet, plus interest.
Both the criminal and civil cases lingered for months while Kelly tried to sell his Cummaquid estate to pay restitution. The home sold in October.
"He's someone who certainly realizes he has betrayed his vocation," O'Boy said. "He's hurt the parish, the church and his brother priests by his actions."
Kelly, who has moved off Cape, will be on probation until he turns 80 years old. Only three years of the probation will be supervised by a probation officer.
After his sentencing, Kelly did not respond to a reporter's questions about whether he had any message for his former parishioners.
O'Boy said Kelly was "profoundly sorry."
"He can never make up for the loss of trust," O'Boy said.
Amanda Lehmert can be reached at email@example.com.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.