Ruling against Priest
$ 527,734 Award in Sex Abuse Case
By Richard Nangle
Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
October 18, 1997
WORCESTER - A former Southbridge resident has been awarded more than a half-million dollars in a civil suit against a Roman Catholic priest she claims sexually molested her while he was reciting The Lord's Prayer 29 years ago.
The assessment of $ 527,734 in damages against the Rev. Robert E. Kelley by Judge Daniel F. Toomey included $ 500,000 for pain and suffering by the plaintiff, 33-year-old Cynthia Yerrick of Augusta, Maine; $ 23,234 for medical expenses incurred and $ 4,500 for future counseling.
Yerrick filed a civil suit in 1995 against Kelley, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester and the diocese. The suit alleged that Yerrick was verbally, physically and sexually abused by Kelley in 1968 when Kelley was assigned to Notre Dame Church in Southbridge and Yerrick and her family were parishioners there.
Yerrick, represented by Worcester lawyer Richard Tucker, alleged in the suit that she suppressed her memories of the abuse until 1993, when she was undergoing counseling. Yerrick said in an affidavit that on at least one occasion, Kelley recited The Lord's Prayer while sexually assaulting her.
The assessment of damages came after Toomey entered a default judgment against Kelley, who never filed an answer to the civil lawsuit. The judgment was entered earlier this week and made public yesterday.
Yerrick's claims against the bishop and the diocese are pending.
Diocese lawyer James G. Reardon said, "The award made by Judge Toomey is against Father Robert Kelley. The judge specifically ordered that the diocese could not and should not participate in the determination of that award. Father Kelley did not appear and did not avail himself of his right to counsel.
"When that matter is tried we fully expect to present sufficient credible evidence that the actions of Father Kelley were his alone and did not involve the diocese," Reardon added.
Yerrick and her lawyers could not be reached for comment.
However, in a statement prepared by the Augusta law firm that also represented her, she said, "I am pleased that the judge saw that abuse by people in positions of authority can really impact a person's life. "
JAILED IN OTHER CASE
In 1990, Kelley was sentenced to 5 years to 7 years in state prison after pleading guilty in Worcester Superior Court to charges of rape of a child, indecent assault and battery on a child and assault with intent to rape. The offenses, which involved a female victim, occurred between Sept. 1, 1983, and April 1, 1985, in Gardner, where he was pastor of Sacred Heart Parish.
Yerrick's suit stated that she "has lived with conflict throughout her life, including depression and low self-esteem," has suffered disability and mental anguish and has incurred medical bills exceeding $ 15,000.
The suit alleged that Yerrick was the victim of "oral sex and rape" and that Kelley threatened her "by instructing her to keep the acts confidential and not share the information with her parents. "
Kelley was accused of molesting Yerrick on several occasions in 1968 and 1969.
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