Accused Priest's Backers Hold Vigil; Sex Abuse Victims Respond

July 15, 2010

Statement by David Clohessy, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314-566 9790)

Bishop Jugis and parishioners are essentially playing 'good cop, bad cop.' The bishop suspended Fr. Kelleher after he was arrested for alleged child sex abuse. Yet at the same time, Jugis lets parishioners hold a public support rally for a likely criminal.

Such public displays often intimidate other victims and witnesses into staying silent. Jugis can't have his cake and eat it too. He can't claim to be concerned about clergy sex abuse victims, yet allow an alleged predatorís backers frighten those same victims.

If Jugis cares about child molestation victims, he'll show some spine, forbid such hurtful events in the future, apologize for the one last night and teach his flock how to more appropriately, and quietly, support an accused child molesting cleric so that others who were molested wonít be further hurt and silenced.

Kids are safe in institutions that invite and welcome reports of suspected abuse, not in institutions that instantly rally around accused criminals. These well-meaning Catholics are inadvertently making their church a more dangerous place by their public support of an alleged child molesting cleric, and their bishop sits back letting this happen.

If someone wants to support Kelleher, the Christian way to do it is quietly and privately, so that others with information about his alleged crimes won't be scared into staying quiet.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We've been around for 22 years and have more than 9,000 members. Despite the word "priest" in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell), Neal Evans (828-242-0059 cell, 828 299-3972 home)

Accused priest's backers hold vigil

By John Hinton | Journal Reporter

Published: July 15, 2010

More than 100 people attended a candlelight vigil in Winston-Salem last night for a local Catholic priest accused of molesting a 14-year-old boy 33 years ago in Albemarle.

The supporters of the Rev. Joseph Kelleher held candles at a shelter in Miller Park while musicians played and organizers led them in prayer. They also sang songs.

Six days ago, Albemarle police charged Kelleher, 82, of 1525 Wood St. with one count of indecent liberties with a child. Kelleher, who was released from custody on a $5,000 bond, didn't attend the vigil.

He is scheduled to appear in court Aug 9, and remains on administrative leave from Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School in Kernersville, where he served as a chaplain.

In a telephone interview last night with the Winston-Salem Journal, Seth Langson, a Charlotte lawyer representing the victim, said that people who attend prayer vigils for someone accused of a crime should not forget the possible victim.

"I hope the prayer vigil also includes prayers for any victims that might exist and that the truth eventually comes out, whatever it might be," Langson said.

During the vigil, most people sat at tables, but some stood. They held lit candles, mostly in silence, for more than an hour.

Many who attended were members of the Diocese of Charlotte, which includes the Triad.

The vigil occurred amid the sounds of crickets chirping and the distant noise of children playing in the park. Several people had solemn expressions on their faces.

As the vigil began, Chelsea Merrill of Winston-Salem told the crowd that Kelleher's supporters love him.

"Father Kelleher has meant so much to us," Merrill said before she led the audience in reciting the Hail Mary prayer.

"I hope you find this helpful in our grieving process."

During the vigil, a yearbook picture of Kelleher sitting next to a male student lay on a table next to candle.

Kelleher wrote a message that said in part, "My big job here for you is to secure your salvation."

On a cardboard poster next to the picture of Kelleher, many people wrote supportive messages to him, including Scott McVicker

"Father Joe, thank you for teaching me how to be a true man of God. Love You," McVicker wrote.

A second poster quoted Mother Theresa.

"If you do good, people will accuse you of false ulterior motives. Do good anyway," the poster read.

Some people talked about their experiences and friendship with Kelleher.

Damian Birkell of Winston-Salem has known the priest for 20 years.

In an interview, Birkell said that Kelleher is a humble man.

However, he declined to comment about why Kelleher didn't attend last night's gathering.

"Every man is innocent until he is proven guilty," Birkell said. "He has spent his entire life providing service to others. Father Kelleher is the real deal." 727-7299


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