Starlight Priest Resigns As Pastor
Kelley Admits Sex Misconduct with an Adult

By Meghan Hoyer
Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
September 7, 2002

A Catholic priest has resigned as pastor of his Starlight parish after admitting that he engaged in sexual misconduct with an adult years ago.

Father Micheal Kelley performed his last Mass at St. John the Baptist in Starlight on Sunday.

He has been on leave since January and returned only to collect his belongings and preach one final time before returning to a Maryland treatment center for clergy facing emotional and spiritual problems.

Kelley's resignation was announced to parishioners a week earlier by the Rev. Clifford Vogelsang, head of the New Albany Catholic Deanery, which includes the 17 parishes in Clark, Floyd and Harrison counties.

During an Aug. 25 Mass, Vogelsang read a letter from Kelley in which the priest wrote that "one of the issues he is dealing with is past sexual misconduct," archdiocese officials said yesterday.

Stunned members of the rural church said yesterday that they had been unaware of Kelley's past, and that they knew him only as a priest who had a gift for delivering impassioned sermons.

"It's just a feeling of shock," said Tracye Huber, who works part-time as an office assistant at the church. "There was the realization that everything that's happening in the church - no one's protected from it. Even in little Starlight."

Kelley could not be reached for comment yesterday.

No one in the New Albany Deanery had been aware of sexual misconduct in Kelley's background, Vogelsang said.

But the Indianapolis Star reported yesterday that an Indianapolis man claimed Kelley molested him 13 years ago.

Bob Smith, 32, told the newspaper that when he was 18, in 1989, Kelley fondled him while at the rectory of Our Lady of the Greenwood church. Church records show that Kelley was an associate pastor at the church from 1989 to 1991.

SMITH SAID Kelley had coun-

seled him spiritually through his junior high and high school years. He said that in the summer of 1989, when he stayed over one night at the rectory, Smith lay down in bed beside him and fondled his genitals. Smith said he immediately pulled away.

Susan Borcherts, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said church officials are not commenting on specific cases of clergy misconduct.

Smith told the Star that he reported the incident to archdiocesan officials shortly after it happened. He said he was offered counseling, but Kelley continued working as a priest in parishes around Indianapolis.

The Courier-Journal was unable to reach Smith for comment yesterday.

Kelley, 49, was transferred to St. John's in August 2000. One of the archdiocese's few black priests, he moved to an almost entirely white congregation and was well-liked there, several members said.

When he arrived, Kelley made a point of learning parishioners' names and their family histories, members said. And his style of preaching sermons - completely different from what most parishioners had experienced before - captivated them.

"He just had a gift for preaching," said Jim Nett, the president of the parish advisory council. Kelley would ask parishioners to shout "Amen" in the middle of sermons and would move about the church as he spoke. He often used props or took references from popular culture to make his point.

Members of other parishes often attended St. John the Baptist just to hear Kelley speak, Huber said.

"It means a lot to have someone who draws people in," she said. "It's just that his sermons were so good."

Kelley, who worked four years as a teacher in Wisconsin before entering St. Meinrad seminary in Southern Indiana, said in an interview with The Courier-Journal in late 2000 that the "priesthood is something that always has been present in my life."

Kelley, fluent in Spanish, also often performed the Spanish-language Masses at St. Mary's Church in New Albany.

Kelley weighed about 350 pounds and was often in physical pain because his knees were giving out, Huber said.

HE WENT on leave in January,

telling Nett that he needed time "to get his weight as it affected his health under control and to learn more about his emotional state," Nett said.

The pastor said he was having emotional troubles, but they weren't evident in church, Nett said. "He called it mood swings," Nett said. "But if he had those, I couldn't tell."

Since January Kelley has been treated at St. Luke Institute in Maryland, a facility for clergy having emotional or spiritual difficulties. The institute also deals with a range of sexual issues.

Kelley is the third priest from the Indianapolis archdiocese to resign or be removed from his parish in recent months, Borcherts said.

In June the Rev. John B. Schoettelkotte was relieved of his duties at two Perry County churches after a New Albany woman alleged that he had molested her from 1964 to 1967 while he was a priest at St. Mary's Church in New Albany.

The woman, June L. Kochert, filed suit against the archdiocese last week, saying that she complained to officials three times about Schoettelkotte but that no action was taken until this year.

The Rev. Jack Okon of Indianapolis also has been placed on administrative leave from the archdiocese after being accused in June of fondling two teen-agers in the mid-1970s. No suit has been filed in connection with that allegation.

Kelley is still a priest but is on leave and has no assignment within the Indianapolis Archdiocese, Borcherts said.

She said no decision has been made yet about whether he will face the archdiocesan panel that investigates sexual-abuse allegations. The panel was designed to protect children from pedophile priests, not to deal with cases of adult sexual misconduct, she said.

She said the archdiocese also had made no decisions about any future assignments for Kelley.

Substitutes will continue to fill in at St. John the Baptist until a long-term schedule is worked out, Vogelsang said. He said the archdiocese planned to have Father Paul Etienne and an associate pastor, both from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany, share duties there and at St. John the Baptist.

Vogelsang said he regretted having to announce Kelley's resignation.

"He was very well liked at St. John's," Vogelsang said. "It's one of those tragedies."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.