Dianne Williamson: Brother of convicted pedophile seeks restored pension for ex-priest

Telegram & Gazette
October 11, 2015

In a 2003 photo, the former Rev. Robert E. Kelley reacts in Worcester Superior Court this morning prior to his sentencing of five to seven years at MCI Cedar Junction in Walpole on charges that he raped two young girls.
Photo by Betty Jenewin

Growing up, Stephen Kelley idolized his big brother Bobby.

The youngest of nine kids raised in the Burncoat neighborhood, Stephen loved spending time with the sibling 19 years his senior. Bobby took him to the beach and out for ice cream. He bought him his first bike; when it was stolen, Bobby promptly bought him another. Outgoing and smart, Bobby was always there to listen.

"He was just a really good guy," said Stephen, 56, of Holden. "He was my hero. I admired him so much."

In 1968, Bobby Kelley became the Rev. Robert E. Kelley and would be assigned to churches in Southbridge, Leominster and Gardner. His large Irish-Catholic clan was thrilled to have a priest in the family and parishioners adored him.

Until they learned the unthinkable: The charismatic, popular Robert E. Kelley was an insatiable pedophile.

In 1990, the priest called "the Pied Piper" by a former parishioner pleaded guilty to six counts of rape of a child and served seven years in state prison. Then, again in 2003, Kelley pleaded guilty to raping two young girls and was sentenced to five to seven years. In a deposition he gave during a civil suit, he admitted that he sexually molested "50 to 100" girls while he was an associate pastor from 1976 to 1983 at St. Cecilia's Church in Leominster.

Today, Robert Kelley is 75. In June, he was defrocked by the Vatican. Stephen Kelley said his brother is broke, broken and living in a Boston homeless shelter.

And while some may consider his fate divine retribution, Stephen said he's angry that the Worcester diocese revoked his brother's retirement benefits and left the elderly man adrift, with barely enough money to feed himself.

"I know what he did was wrong and he should have been convicted," Stephen said. "What he did makes me want to throw up. But I thought the Catholic Church was supposed to be compassionate and forgiving. They're supposed to help the poor and the homeless. They're not supposed to make someone homeless."

When told that few would sympathize with a man who preyed on children, Stephen said he understood. He also said his brother doesn't know that he's speaking to the media and would have no interest in doing so.

"But this is a guy who worked for years and years for the church," Stephen said. "He served 14 years in prison, which is what our society dictates. He paid the price. He bore his cross. Should the church keep on punishing him? It's just wrong to treat anyone that way."

John Mackey of Tewskbury also knew Robert Kelley. In the early 1980s, when Mackey's daughter was 7, the priest forced her to perform a sex act on him and raped her repeatedly. After Kelley's sentencing in 2003, Mackey told the media that he hated him and despised the Worcester diocese for its "lack of compassion, sensitivity, loyalty, honesty, concern and their total indifference to victims."

Last week, Mackey said he was unaware that Kelley was defrocked but that it should have happened years ago. When told that Kelley is broke and homeless, however, Mackey was silent for several seconds.

"I guess I wish he kept his pension," Mackey finally said. "I don't want to see the guy in a homeless shelter. I don't forgive him for what he did to my daughter ... I was pretty bitter back then but I've come to terms with it. I don't have any respect for him, but I don't want to see him homeless and I'm sorry to hear that he is."

Stephen Kelley said his brother had been receiving $1,000 a month from the Worcester diocese until he was defrocked, or laicized, this past spring. On Friday, a diocesan spokesman confirmed that the former priest's retirement benefits ended then, but said Robert Kelley never responded to letters notifying him that he would be laicized. He said the diocese last heard from Kelley about five years ago, when he was released from prison the second time and needed money.

"We've never heard one word from him since," said spokesman Raymond Delisle. "If he's destitute, he should contact us. If he has absolutely nothing, we have a canonical obligation to help him somehow."

Kelley briefly operated a flower shop in Cambridge but is now unemployed and unable to find work, his brother said. He said he receives about $680 a month in Social Security benefits, a quarter of which is sent to the Worcester County Probation Department.

Asked why Stephen or any of his siblings don't take their brother in, he said they fear the responsibility of harboring a pedophile. He said he speaks to his brother on the phone but hasn't seen him since 2013, at their sister's wake. Before her death, Robert spent hours by her side during her cancer treatments at Dana-Farber.

Like many who loved Robert Kelley, Stephen expressed deep ambivalence about his feelings. He said he once hated him, that he put their family through hell and never apologized. He said the former priest never once spoke of his crimes to his parents or siblings. Had Stephen known about them, he said he would have called the police himself.

Yet, Stephen still loves the Bobby he knew, the Bobby who was caring and likable and kind. And while the children abused by the former priest are the true victims, the collateral damage caused by pedophilia is clear through the tears that one brother sheds for another as he heeds the oft-cited dictate of the Catholic Church: Hate the sin, love the sinner.

"How do you separate the pedophile from the man you've loved your whole life?" he asked, choking back sobs. "He's the same man. I hate what he's done, but how can I hate my own brother? It's just cruel and unfair that he's ended up like this."


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