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  Canton Priest Fights Back after Abuse Allegation
Many Parishioners Attend Meeting to Show Their Support

By Cecil Angel and David Crumm
Detroit Free Press
March 3, 2004

A popular suburban Catholic priest, whose parishioners were shocked last weekend to learn of his removal in the face of accusations of sexual abuse, is firing back against his accuser in a letter to his parishioners.

"This is absolutely wrong and unjust! Every priest is a sitting duck," the Rev. C. Richard Kelly Jr. said in his letter, which is dated Feb. 28 but is arriving in mailboxes of St. Thomas a'Becket Church parishioners this week.

During Saturday and Sunday masses at the Canton church, Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Walter Hurley told thousands of stunned parishioners that Kelly was placed on leave last week and restricted from ministry as a priest for a "substantive . . . allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor . . . dating back to the early years of his ministry."

Kelly's accuser has not been named.

On Tuesday night, Hurley was back at St. Thomas a'Becket, where Kelly had served since 1993 and was popular for his humor and for his singing.

Such visits to answer questions have become a standard procedure for Hurley and his staff since 2002, during which time 20 other priests have been removed from ministry on allegations of abusing minors.

"It's a painful time for me, and it's a painful time for you and the church," Hurley told the crowd of at least 500 people Tuesday evening, many of whom attended the meeting to show support for Kelly.

David Vezzosi, 43, of Livonia said he has known Kelly since 1980 and described him as a man who has dedicated his life to the church and his country, even serving as a reservist in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

"I'm here for him because he was here for everyone else . . .," Vezzosi said of Kelly. "This man has spent a lifetime of doing good. They're just allegations."

During Tuesday's mass, the congregation prayed that Kelly would know the congregation has its arms around him and that he is loved at this difficult time.

As in nearly all of the other cases of priests accused of abuse, Kelly had left the parish even before the weekend announcement at masses by Hurley. He was not at the Tuesday meeting with parishioners and will not return to the parish in the near future, Kelly told parishioners in his letter.

Kelly, ordained in 1970 and now 59, told his members in the letter: "I did not do this!"

Kelly said he has retained an expert in the code of church law that governs the 1-billion-member worldwide Catholic Church and expects that his removal will be overturned when it is appealed to Vatican authorities.

In closing, the priest urged parishioners not to destroy the fellowship in the parish that he worked so hard to serve for more than a decade.

"Welcome the new priest that comes in. Think of what a difficult job he has ahead of him," Kelly wrote. "He probably can't even sing 'Danny Boy' in the off-pitch way I did."

 
 

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