Monsignor Joseph Kelly, 7 Others Added to Diocese's "Credibly Accused List"
By David Singleton
October 29, 2020
The Diocese of Scranton on Thursday placed a well-known priest who led Catholic Social Services for many years on its list of individuals who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children.
Monsignor Joseph P. Kelly, a popular member of the community widely recognized for his work on behalf of disadvantaged children and adults, was among eight new people added to the list.
The new additions included six members of the diocesan clergy, all of whom except Kelly are deceased, along with a religious brother and a former diocesan lay teacher.
Kelly, 80, immediately pushed back against the "credibly accused" designation in a sharply worded statement, urging the people of the diocese to reject it and accept that the claims against him are "completely false and fraudulent."
While it is true some priests in the diocese abused minors, "which is both a sin and a crime, I am not one of them," he said.
"I say to my family, my friends, my former parishioners that these claims are absolutely not true," Kelly said. "I have spent the last 54 years as a priest who believes in and practiced respect for the dignity and safety of all I came in contact with, especially those under my supervision."
The latest additions bring to 91 the number of names on the list of "credibly accused individuals" that the diocese originally compiled in 2018 to coincide with the release of a statewide grand jury report exposing decades of child sexual abuse abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including Scranton.
The new additions all involve allegations of abuse submitted to the Independent Survivors Compensation Program, which the diocese created in 2019 to compensate victims of clergy abuse.
In judging the credibility of allegations submitted to the compensation program, the diocese said it takes into account the findings of the program administrators, along with other elements of its standard assessment process.
Under an agreement with participants in the compensation program, the diocese cannot release details relating to any specific abuse allegations, diocesan spokesman Eric Deabill said.
However, he said the diocese could confirm that seven allegations of abuse were brought forward against Kelly, and the compensation program administrators found four allegations credible and made awards in those cases.
In addition, the diocese’s outside lawyers, aided by a former FBI agent, reviewed the allegations before the Diocesan Review Board did a case-by-case evaluation — which in this instance also included reviewing materials submitted by Kelly — and recommended which names should be added to the credibly accused listing.
The diocese placed Kelly on administrative leave, prohibiting him from celebrating the sacraments or presenting himself as a priest, after receiving the multiple allegations through the compensation program, it said.
Kelly said he spent much of his ministry involved with children. He worked at Boys Town in Nebraska. He helped found and worked at Project Hope. He was the director of Camp St. Andrew, and he taught in diocesan schools for 25 years.
The only claims against him, he said, have come from former court-assigned boys who were committed to St. Michael's School in Falls Twp., where he served as director in the 1970s.
The diocese's decision to add him to the credibly accused list was based on a flawed process that invited fraud as former St. Michael's boys filed claims of abuse with the compensation program, he said.
"I was not given the opportunity to defend myself, and no adequate investigation of these claims was made," said Kelly, whose last assignment was director of St. Francis of Assisi Kitchen in Scranton.
The five deceased diocesan priests added to the list were:
Edmund F. Byrne: Born in 1913 and ordained in 1938. Served locally at Nativity of Our Lord, Scranton; St. Joseph, Minooka; St. Peter's Cathedral, Scranton; St. Mary, Dunmore. Incardinated in the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa in 1971. Died in 1991.
Joseph T. Conboy: Born in 1927 and ordained in 1953. Served locally at St. Michael's School, Hoban Heights; St. Gabriel, Hazleton; St. Leo, Ashley; St. Lawrence, Great Bend; Holy Savior, Wilkes-Barre; St. Patrick, Nicholson. Retired in 1992. Died in 2008.
Francis P. Corcoran: Born in 1932 and ordained in 1958. Served locally at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Tunkhannock; St. Ann, Shohola; St. Francis, West Hazleton; Sacred Heart, Weston; Sacred Heart, Luzerne; St. Martin of Tours, Jackson. Died in 1996.
Walter L. Ferrett: Born in 1941 and ordained in 1966. Served locally at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Lake Silkworth; St. Stanislaus, Nanticoke; Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Scranton; Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dickson City; SS. Peter and Paul, Plains. Died in 2008.
Hugh Harold McGroarty: Born in 1919 and ordained in 1945. Served locally at St. Charles, Sugar Notch; Holy Savior, Wilkes-Barre; St. Patrick, Wilkes-Barre; Christ the King, Dunmore; St. Martha, Fairmount Springs; St. Elizabeth, Bear Creek; St. Frances X. Cabrini, Carverton; St. Patrick, White Haven; St. Cecilia, Exeter; St. John the Evangelist, Wilkes-Barre; St. Rose, Carbondale; St. Hedwig, Kingston; St. John the Evangelist, Pittston.
Also placed on the list Thursday:
Julius Reiner, C.P.: Reiner was a member of the Congregation of the Passion and not a Diocese of Scranton priest. According to the Passionist online archives, he was born in 1904, ordained in 1926 and died in 1973.
Mark J. Major: Major, who was born in 1956, was a lay teacher at Sacred Heart High School in Carbondale from 1991 to 1993.