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  Ex-Area Priest, Diocese Face Florida Suit Alleging Abuse

By Jay Tokasz
Buffalo News
October 13, 2003

A former altar boy from Dunkirk is accusing a Buffalo priest of sexually abusing him two decades ago during a vacation trip to Florida.

The allegations are spelled out in one of two lawsuits filed in Florida circuit courts involving men who served as priests in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

The former Dunkirk teenager's case names the Rev. Timothy Kelley and the diocese as co-defendants, along with the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

The plaintiff alleges that the abuse occurred while he was a 13-year-old student at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in Dunkirk.

Kelley had become friends with the boy's family and drove him and his brother on a vacation to Florida in August 1983, according to court papers.

Kelley, ordained in Buffalo in 1978, worked as a priest in the Buffalo Diocese until he transferred to the Diocese of St. Petersburg in November 1983.

The reason for the transfer wasn't immediately clear, although Kelley's lawyer said he believed the priest had relatives in Florida.

Kelley, 56, denies the accusations.

In a statement to parishioners at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Tampa, Fla., he wrote: "I know the truth and am confident that those investigating will quickly find that I have done nothing wrong."

Kelley voluntarily removed himself from ministry while the St. Petersburg Diocese, with outside assistance, investigates, according to a statement from that diocese.

The Diocese of Buffalo had not been served with papers in the case, but Kevin A. Keenan, diocesan spokesman, said officials were aware of the lawsuit and would respond to it.

The abuse allegedly occurred before Kelley's assignment in St. Petersburg, which began Nov. 1, 1983, according to a statement from the the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

The plaintiffs in the case are identified only as John Doe and his wife, Jane Doe.

The lawsuit claims that Kelley performed oral sex on John Doe on the final day of a trip to Florida in August 1983.

The lawsuit also states that the plaintiff developed amnesia and "completely lost or suppressed the memory of the abuse" until after September 1999.

In his statement, Kelley says he has been "falsely accused," and he describes his accuser as "someone who has been a friend of mine."

Eddie Suarez, Kelley's lawyer, said Kelley has no other accusations against him.

"Father Kelley has a long and distinguished career of service to the church and his parishioners without a single blemish," said Suarez.

Another Florida lawsuit also involves a man who served as a priest in the Diocese of Buffalo more than 30 years ago, before going to work in Florida.

An unnamed woman from Florida is suing Charles Cassetta.

The plaintiff, who is not named in the lawsuit, alleges Cassetta sexually assaulted her at least 10 times in 1971 and 1972 when she was a 17-year-old high school senior at Cardinal Newman High School in Palm Beach County, Fla.

Cassetta, 75, was a priest of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which operates Holy Angels Catholic Church in Buffalo.

He left the priesthood in 1975, got married and became a successful businessman in Washington, D.C., He is now semi-retired, said David Schertler, Cassetta's lawyer.

He said his client also has been wrongly accused.

"We believe that these allegations are completely manufactured," he said. "No allegations were ever made against him while he was in the priesthood."

The Diocese of Buffalo is not named in the suit involving Cassetta, filed last December.



 
 

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