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  Priest Quits, Admits Past Misconduct
Local Man Says Indiana Pastor Molested Him 13 Years Ago When He Was 18

By Bonnie Harris and Judith Cebula
Indianapolis Star
September 6, 2002

A Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has resigned as pastor of a southern Indiana parish, admitting past sexual misconduct with adults.

The Rev. Micheal H. Kelley, 49, has spent the past several months in Maryland at St. Luke Institute, which serves clergy with spiritual and psychological problems, including a wide range of sexual issues.

Church officials announced the resignation during Masses on Aug. 24 and 25 at St. John the Baptist in Starlight, where Kelley had been pastor since 2000.

"(Kelley) has resigned his office of pastor because of various physical and emotional health reasons," church officials said in a statement released Thursday. "Father Kelley said that one of the issues he is dealing with is past sexual misconduct with adults."

Kelley is the third priest in the Indianapolis archdiocese to leave ministry since June. Two others have been placed on administrative leave after being accused of sexually abusing minors.

An archdiocese spokeswoman would not say whether Kelley would be assigned to a parish in the future. Nor would she say how many adults have been affected by the misconduct.

But one Indianapolis man has come forward with claims that Kelley molested him 13 years ago.

Indianapolis resident Bob Smith, 32, who directs a youth program at an Eastside United Methodist Church, claims that Kelley counseled him spiritually throughout his junior high and high school years. After he turned 18, Smith alleges Kelley fondled his genitals during an overnight stay at the rectory of Our Lady of the Greenwood church.

Kelley did not return calls Thursday.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Borcherts said Thursday that the church would have no comment on Smith's claims. Church officials repeatedly have declined to discuss specific cases of clergy abuse or misconduct.

Smith said he reported the incident to archdiocesean officials shortly after it happened in 1989 but soon decided he couldn't trust them. The first question they asked, he said, was, "You're not going to the press, are you?"

Church officials later offered him counseling through Catholic Social Services, Smith said, but by then he didn't trust anyone from the archdiocese.

Smith said he was an eighth-grader at St. Philip Neri Catholic School when he first met Kelley. At the time, Kelley was two years away from ordination, but he spent time at the Eastside parish.

Smith said Kelley became a father figure and spiritual mentor to him.

The two used to talk about school, family and Smith's interest in becoming a priest. They also talked about sex, Smith said.

Kelley asked him if he explored his body and masturbated, said Smith. "I just thought that those were questions designed to see if I was developing appropriately for a guy my age."

The two talked regularly by phone and at rectories where Kelley lived, Smith said.

On occasion, Kelley allegedly gave Smith beer, even though the teen wasn't old enough to drink legally.

Then one summer night in 1989, when Smith was 18, he stayed overnight at the rectory of Our Lady of the Greenwood parish, where Kelley was an assistant pastor.

But Smith said that after he settled in on a futon, the priest entered, lay down beside him, put his hands inside the teen's underwear and touched his genitals.

"I pulled away, and I went into the bathroom," Smith said. "I knew it was wrong immediately, and I thought if I could just get out of there through that bathroom window, I would be OK."

But Smith was too big for the window. He returned to the room, and Kelley allegedly approached him again.

"I said, 'No, this is not what I am here for. This isn't right,' " Smith said.

Kelley left, and Smith went to bed. In the morning, he asked the priest about the advance. He said Kelley responded by saying: "I am thankful for God's forgiveness."

When news of the current clergy abuse scandal emerged early this year, Smith reported the incident again to church author ities. In March, he said, he met with archdiocesean Chancellor Suzanne Magnant. In May, Smith says he met with Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein.

During his 90-minute meeting with Buechlein, Smith said, he was told Kelley would not be reassigned to a parish.

Borcherts said officials don't know whether the new lay review board would look at the Kelley case. Church officials handpicked the all-Catholic board to comply with national policies adopted by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in June.

Since January, about 250 priests nationwide have resigned or been suspended from ministry. Nearly all have left because of claims of abuse of minors. Three bishops, including one accused of sexual misconduct with an adult, also have resigned.

Smith would like to see his case come before the new board. He also would like the board to include a victim of abuse, and he has suggested that and other reforms to archdiocese officials.

"The national board created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a victim of abuse. Why isn't the archdiocese following that leadership?" asked Smith. That victim of abuse is a former priest named Michael Bland.

Ultimately, Kelley's future with the Catholic Church will be determined by Buechlein, said Borcherts. Parishioners at Kelley's last post, St. John the Baptist in Starlight, may want him back.

"They were very supportive, and that's all I can say," said Sister Mary Carol Messmer, pastoral associate for the parish.

Contact: BONNIE.HARRIS@INDYSTAR.COM

 
 

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