Alleged Sex Abuse Victims Tell Their Story

Associated Press State & Local Wire
June 24, 2002

Two men said they were sexually abused by a priest who took boys to a cottage for weekend visits that ended in what the priest described as "sexual experimentation," The Blade reported.

The Rev. Leo Welch invited nearly 50 boys between 1956 and 1961 to his cottage in eastern Lucas County. Some said he called them individually into his bedroom to wrestle, coaxed them into taking off their clothes and forced them to perform sexual acts, the newspaper reported for a story Sunday.

At the time, Welch was an assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception parish in Bellevue, about 60 miles east of Toledo.

George Keller, 54, and Harold Lee, 50, accused Welch of repeatedly sodomizing them and have taken their cases to officials of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo.

"It changed my life," said Lee, who now lives in Roanoke, Va.

He said that at the time, he never thought of complaining about what was happening because he looked up to the priest "as a representative of Christ on Earth.

"This was the early 1960s. You were taught to never question the church, especially a priest," he said.

Lee, a recovering alcoholic, said he never told anyone about what allegedly happened in Welch's cottage until revealing it to a sister about 15 years ago.

Keller said that at about the same time, he first talked about Welch while being treated for using cocaine.

"What he did was twisted and despicable," said Keller, who still lives in Bellevue. "He damaged a lot of lives and affected a lot of young kids."

"This is a dirty secret that has been festering in this community for years," he added. "It had to come out. I've lived with this since I was a kid."

Welch did not deny the allegations.

"The only way I could label it - it was a sexual experimentation," he told the newspaper. "I've lived with this every day of my life. I was sick. That's all I can say. I was sick."

Welch, 75, who now lives in Inkster, Mich., a Detroit suburb, said he was an alcoholic at the time and did not remember much of his weekends with the boys, ages 9 to 13.

"I can't even tell you what I did to them, other than I have vague feelings that I was too affectionate," he said. "They would sit on my lap and watch TV or we would be wrestling. I didn't have control over myself. My mind was not my own."

Toledo Bishop James Hoffman said he was shocked after listening to Keller's accusations in a May 15 meeting.

"I can't say I had any doubts about it," Hoffman said.

The Rev. Tom Quinn, a diocesan spokesman, said there were no records of the earlier allegations against Welch or of a diocesan investigation of him.

Diocesan officials said they were not certain whether Welch even was still alive, but the newspaper said he is an outreach specialist for the Area Agency on Aging in metropolitan Detroit.

No complaints or disciplinary actions have been filed against Welch in Michigan, where he was employed as a welfare worker and became a certified social worker in 1974, records show.

Welch was removed from his post in Bellevue after the church's pastor learned of the alleged abuse. One of those who told the pastor was Lee's mother, Keller said.

Following his removal in Bellevue, the diocese secretly ordered Welch to have psychiatric evaluations at a monastery near Louisville, Ky., he said.

The case was reviewed at the time by attorney Charles Siler, who was the city prosecutor and a lawyer for the Lee family, but he never forwarded information to police, according to interviews and records.

Welch was reassigned to Christ the King Parish in Toledo in 1962.

He said he continued to drink alcohol while he was there, but insisted his days of abusing children were over.

He abruptly left the church in 1965. Church leaders said he left a surprise note on the rectory kitchen table saying he was departing, and they never heard from him again.


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