Former R.I. priest accused of sexual assault found incompetent to stand trial

Boston Globe

February 11, 2022

By Brian Amaral

Edward Kelley, 79, has dementia, and is unable to understand or assist in the proceedings against him, an expert who examined him testified in Superior Court on Friday

A former Rhode Island Catholic priest accused of sexual assault in the 1980s was found incompetent to stand trial, ending the criminal prosecution against him.

Edward Kelley, 79, has dementia, and is unable to understand or assist in the proceedings against him, an expert who examined him testified in Superior Court on Friday.

Dr. Barry Wall, the director of forensic services at the state-run Eleanor Slater Hospital, told Magistrate John F. McBurney III that Kelley’s dementia is so severe that he only knows his own name. His condition is permanent, Wall testified.

Kelley was indicted by a Rhode Island grand jury in May 2021 on three counts of first-degree sexual assault. He was extradited from South Carolina, where he was living at the time. The accusations date to the early 1980s, well before the dementia diagnosis. The case grew out of Attorney General Peter Neronha’s ongoing review of clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence. That review has now resulted in three criminal cases, including Kelley’s.

The finding of mental incompetence means a criminal trial will not go forward, but it does not mean Kelley will go free. Kelley will remain at Eleanor Slater Hospital’s medical unit, where he is now. His condition is so frail that he can’t live in a regular unit of the hospital, Wall testified. Kelley will likely now be civilly certified – in other words, ordered by a civil court for treatment. That could happen at the state’s hospital, or at a private facility, but Kelley would be subject to a court order for treatment.

Under Rhode Island law, trials can’t move forward against people who can’t understand the proceedings against them or assist in their own defense. It’s different from an insanity defense, when someone is found not guilty because of a condition they had at the time a crime was committed.

A full accounting of Kelley’s assignments in the Diocese of Providence was not immediately available, but according to Providence Journal archives, he had assignments at St. Aidan in Cumberland, St. Agatha in Woonsocket, Our Lady of Consolation in Pawtucket and St. John the Evangelist in North Smithfield in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1992, Kelley resigned after only five months at St. Aidan parish in Cumberland at the request of then-Bishop Louis Gelineau, according to a story in The Journal at the time. The diocese said “a divisiveness had developed in the parish because of the priest’s leadership style,” according to The Journal’s report.

Kelley moved out of Rhode Island in 1993, according to the Diocese of Providence, and later served as an active-duty U.S. Army chaplain.

In 2015, Kelley, then in South Carolina, was removed from ministry for “engaging in a relationship with an adult woman not in keeping with a state of life appropriate for a priest,” Maria Aselage, the Diocese of Charleston’s spokeswoman, said in an email last year.

The finding of incompetence Friday came at the request of Kelley’s attorney, Kara Hoopis Manosh. The attorney general’s office did not object. Wall testified that Kelley’s diagnosis history goes back to before the criminal case started. Because of that, Wall said under cross-examination by a prosecutor he had no concern that Kelley was faking it. In fact, Wall said, Kelley’s condition has only gotten worse: Where before he’d lashed out in paranoia at caretakers because of his condition, now he is so docile that he cannot do that.

Brian Amaral can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.