Trenton Diocese Ousts 2 Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse

By Maryann Spoto
June 8, 2002

The Diocese of Trenton said yesterday it removed from duty two priests who are accused of sexually abusing teenage girls.

Monsignor Manuel Fernandez, rector of St. Mary Cathedral and pastor of St. Joseph Parish, both in Trenton, and Monsignor Leo Kelty, pastor of St. William the Abbot in Howell, took leaves of absence, according to a statement released by the diocese yesterday.

The allegations stem from when both men were priests at parishes in Monmouth County in the 1970s, said Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor William Guidry.

The assistant prosecutor said his office has already decided it cannot file criminal charges because the allegations have long since exceeded the statute of limitations. Fernandez is accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl while he was assigned to St. John the Baptist Church in Long Branch and Immaculate Conception Church in Eatontown, he said. That case recently came to light as Roman Catholic dioceses have been under pressure to review allegations of sexual improprieties by priests.

Kelty was accused of sexually touching a teenage girl on at least two occasions while he was assigned to St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Freehold Township more than 20 years ago. Guidry said this was one of the cases the diocese referred to the prosecutor's office more than a month ago when the diocese agreed to review its records of alleged misconduct by its priests.

"I am profoundly sorry for the terrible pain caused to any victims and their families in sexual abuse cases," said Bishop John M. Smith, head of the diocese. He said the diocese continues to offer counseling for alleged victims of priest sexual abuse. "The diocese is striving to take all the steps necessary to follow through on any complaint in a way that the rights of all parties will be handled respectfully," Smith said in the statement.

The statement said the Diocese Response Team, established to address the sexual abuse claims, reviewed both cases and recommended removal of the clergymen.


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