New lawsuit alleges sexual abuse by priest at Myrtle Beach Catholic church

Sun News [Myrtle Beach SC]

November 8, 2021

By Gerard Albert

A South Carolina man has filed a lawsuit in Horry County accusing a priest at a Myrtle Beach Catholic church of sexually abusing him about 30 years ago.

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 3 by a man identified only as John Doe, alleges that Father Robert Kelly groomed the boy to engage in a sexual relationship when he was a young altar boy at St. Andrews Catholic Church in the early 90s.

Kelly died in 2004, and it’s not clear whether the alleged incidents were ever reported by the boy to law enforcement.

When asked about Kelly’s work history and any misconduct on his record, the Diocese of Charleston, named a defendant in the suit, said they received a copy of the lawsuit and are reviewing it.

“We will respond to the pleading in due time,” they said.

The lawsuit alleges the Diocese knew or should have known that Kelly had sexual propensities toward minor children in the parish and was prone to groom and exploit minor boys for his own sexual desires.


In his lawsuit, John Doe said he was a young boy raised in a Catholic household within walking distance of the church.

He attended the earliest services at the church Sunday mornings and volunteered at these services. He was the only altar boy serving at the early service and was the only person in the priest’s chambers before church started, according to the lawsuit. As he began to spend more time with Kelly, Kelly took steps which made the boy uncomfortable, the lawsuit said.

At first, the lawsuit said, Kelly made inappropriate contact with the boy, leaving his hands in his mouth for too long after administering communion. According to the lawsuit, the young boy had no idea that kissing, touching and fondling by a priest was not common behavior.

This was the first step in the process of Kelly “grooming and later sexually exploiting him,” the lawsuit alleges.

At some point during the church’s service, the lawsuit said Kelly’s behavior continued from “inappropriate grooming to explicit sexual misconduct.” The man now recalls multiple instances of oral sex before church as a young boy, the lawsuit said.

“Kelly used his position as a priest to use the time alone with altar boys to groom them and engage in criminal sexual behavior,” the lawsuit alleges.

The man also remembered stains on the gowns, resembling semen stains, and the smell of the gowns at one point caused him to vomit during the service, according to the lawsuit. The man said this happened to other altar boys who served at the church around the same time as the boy.

John Doe is asking for an unspecified amount of damages from the Diocese of Charleston, which operates the church.

Gerard Albert III writes about crime, courts and police for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. Albert was editor-in-chief at Florida International University’s student newspaper. He also covered Miami-Dade and Broward County for WLRN, South Florida’s NPR station. He is an award-winning journalist who has reported throughout South Florida and New York City. Hablo espanol. 305-469-2219