Alleged Sex Abuse Victims Filing Lawsuit against Priest

Associated Press State & Local Wire
July 14, 2002

Two men are suing the Toledo Roman Catholic Diocese, a Bellevue church and a priest for sexual abuse they claim happened when the pastor took them to a cottage for weekend visits when they were boys.

Attorneys for George Keller, 54, and Harold Lee, 50, planned to file the lawsuit Monday morning in the Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

The Rev. Leo Welch abused the boys when they were 6 to 12 years old while an assistant pastor of the Immaculate Conception parish in Bellevue, about 60 miles east of Toledo, the lawsuit said. The abuse occurred at Welch's cottage in eastern Lucas County and at diocesan properties from 1959 through 1961, according to the suit.

Welch did not deny allegations that he invited more than 50 boys to the cottage and forced some of them to perform sexual acts when interviewed last month by The (Toledo) Blade. He did not return a message left Sunday at his home in Inkster, Mich., a Detroit suburb.

"The only way I could label it - it was a sexual experimentation," he told the newspaper. "I've lived with this every day of my life. I was sick. That's all I can say. I was sick."

Welch, 75, said he was an alcoholic at the time and did not remember much of his weekends with the boys. He was removed from his post in Bellevue after the church's pastor learned of the alleged abuse.

The church and diocese failed to disclose the allegations against Welch, the suit claims.

Keller and Lee are seeking at least $25,000 in damages each.

Lee, a recovering alcoholic living in Roanoke, Va., said he never told anyone about what allegedly happened in Welch's cottage until revealing it to a sister about 15 years ago.

Keller, of Bellevue, said he first talked about Welch about the same time while being treated for using cocaine.

Toledo Bishop James Hoffman said he was shocked after listening to Keller's accusations in a May 15 meeting. A message left Sunday at the diocese was not returned.

The Rev. Tom Quinn, a diocesan spokesman, said there were no records of the earlier allegations against Welch or of a diocesan investigation of him.

Following his removal in Bellevue, the diocese secretly ordered Welch to have psychiatric evaluations at a monastery near Louisville, Ky., he said.

The case was reviewed at the time by attorney Charles Siler, who was the city prosecutor and a lawyer for the Lee family, but he never forwarded information to police, according to interviews and records.

Welch was reassigned to Christ the King Parish in Toledo in 1962.

He said he continued to drink alcohol while he was there but did not abuse any children.

He abruptly left the church in 1965. Church leaders said he left a surprise note on the rectory kitchen table saying he was departing, and they never heard from him again.


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