2 Sue Catholic Diocese, Claim Abuse by Priest

Charlotte Observer
September 29, 2011

Two men who say they were sexually abused by a priest have sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, saying diocesan officials should have known the abuse was taking place.

The men claim they were assaulted by Fr. Joseph Kelleher in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Kelleher, 83, was charged earlier this year in Stanly County with taking indecent liberties with a minor.

In the suit, a man identified only as John Doe 1K says he was abused in 1977 when Kelleher was a priest at Our Lady of Annunciation Church in Albemarle. The man says he was 14 at the time.

The second claimant, identified as John Doe 2K, says he was a 13-year-old when Kelleher allegedly abused him in 1980 at Our Lady of Assumption Church in Charlotte.

The two, who are represented by attorney Seth Langson, are asking for at least $10,000 in damages, but they could receive much more.

Langson, who specializes in sexual abuse cases, told the Observer that state statutes specify that complaints be worded so that "at least $10,000" is sought.

"Thus, we used that language for both the claims of compensatory and punitive damages for each of the two plaintiffs," Langson said.

A man represented by Langson received $1 million in a settlement last year with the Charlotte Catholic diocese, over alleged sexual abuse by a priest at St. Matthew Church more than a decade ago.

A group of former parishioners at Kelleher's churches formed a group in support of the priest after he was charged several months ago. That group, Justice for Father Joseph Kelleher, lists nearly 1,300 members on its Facebook page.

Kelleher's most recent assignment for the diocese was at Bishop McGuinness High School in Winston-Salem, but he no longer is listed as the chaplain there. The diocese has not commented on the suit.


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