Rape by Priest Alleged in Latest Suit

By Kathleen A. Shaw
Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
May 14, 2002

WORCESTER - A class action suit was filed in Worcester Superior Court yesterday afternoon on behalf of alleged sexual abuse victims of the Rev. Robert E. Kelley.

Daniel J. Shea, a Houston lawyer who recently opened a law office in Worcester, filed the suit on behalf of Karen A. Pederson and other women who have not yet come forward. The suit states that Ms. Pederson was molested when she was 8 while the priest was assigned to St. Boniface parish in Lunenburg in 1975.

Named as defendants in the suit are the Catholic Diocese of Worcester and Rev. Kelley.

Rev. Kelley, who has not been active in the priesthood since 1986, was convicted in 1990 of raping a Gardner girl and served a prison term. He later was found liable in a civil suit filed on behalf of a woman who said she was sexually abused as a child in the 1970s by the priest when he was assigned to a parish in Southbridge.

Rev. Kelley is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Leominster District Court on charges of rape and unnatural rape in connection with the sexual abuse of a girl when he was assigned to St. Cecilia's in Leominster. That case is being prosecuted by District Attorney John J. Conte's office.

The Telegram & Gazette disclosed last week that in a sworn deposition he gave in the 1990s, Rev. Kelley acknowledged sexually abusing three girls in Lunenburg and 50 to 100 girls while he was assigned to the Leominster parish. St. Cecilia's was his final assignment as a priest.

Mr. Shea said he intends to file a writ to attach the assets of the Worcester Diocese.

Ms. Pedersen was in St. Boniface parish when she prepared to make her First Communion. At that time, children went for their first confession before receiving communion, Mr. Shea said.

The suit alleges when the girl entered the confessional area, she was told by Rev. Kelley he intended to "absolve" her of sins through what Mr. Shea described as a ritual bath. She was given three soap and water baths by Rev. Kelley. On the fourth occasion, according to the suit, she was taken to an ice cream stand where she was digitally penetrated, which is considered rape under Massachusetts law.

Lawyer Jeffrey A. Newman of Boston and Marblehead last week filed a civil suit on behalf of three women, one from Leominster, one from Fitchburg and another from Tewksbury, who said they were sexually abused by Rev. Kelley when he was at St. Cecilia's. That suit was filed in Middlesex Superior court. They have set up an e-mail address at and are asking other women who say they were abused by Rev. Kelley to come forward.


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