Priest Denies Abusing Children
Albany The Rev. James F. Kelly, Removed from Active Ministry by Bishop Hubbard, Says his Actions were Likely Misconstrued

By Andrew Tilghman
Times Union [Albany, NY]
February 5, 2003

An Albany diocesan priest who was removed from ministry this week because of two previously undisclosed complaints denied ever sexually abusing a child, explaining that he is a "strict disciplinarian" and his actions may have been misinterpreted.

The Rev. James F. Kelly said he "adamantly and vehemently" denies the allegations leveled in a federal lawsuit six days ago, accusing him of sexually abusing a young teenager in 1978 when he was working at Father Flanagan's Boys Town in Nebraska.

"Quite honestly, I expect something like this these days. Any priest who has worked with kids is vulnerable," Kelly, now 70, said in an interview from his home in Carson City, Nev., where he was working as a prison chaplain.

Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard removed Kelly from active ministry on Monday, one day after learning of the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Omaha, Neb.

Hubbard acted swiftly and conducted no preliminary investigation because Kelly had faced a previous complaint of sexual misconduct with a child when he was working in Rensselaer in the 1980s, according to a church statement.

Kelly said the complaint came from parents in Rensselaer in 1984 when he served at St. Joseph's parish and school.

"There was nothing sexual about it," he said. "I was really a Type A personality. I am a very rigid disciplinarian, and I would discipline some of the kids there."

Diocesan officials said the allegations from the 1980s were investigated, and it was determined that Kelly's misconduct did not constitute sexual abuse. Nevertheless, Kelly was sent for residential therapy in California and evaluated by church counselors before returning to ministry in what the diocese described this week as "an added precaution."

A woman who said she knew Kelly in 1984 and was a member of the eighth-grade graduating class at St. Joseph's School recalled Tuesday that he brought each of the 30 eighth-graders, one by one, into his rectory living area for a "graduation talk."

"And after that he was gone. He left like a week later," said 32-year-old Vicki Spring of East Greenbush. "When we asked about it, we were told to be quiet."

Kelly was ordained in 1957 and was principal of Keveny Academy in Cohoes from 1969 to 1974. He was the diocese's director of youth activities until 1975.

Kelly then left the Capital Region in 1975 and spent eight years as a chaplain at Boys Town, the home for wayward boys that was the subject of a 1938 Oscar-winning movie starring Spencer Tracy in the role of Father Edward Flanagan.

In 1978, Kelly allegedly molested numerous children living at the home, according to the lawsuit filed by one of his alleged victims, James Duffy, who now lives in Tucson, Ariz.

Duffy, an unmarried clerical worker, had suffered "repressed memory" of the abuse until last year, when a news report about pedophile priests triggered awareness of his troubling past, the lawsuit said. Otherwise, the lawsuit would be barred by statute of limitations.

Duffy said Kelly physically and sexually molested him at the priest's residence on the Boys Town campus, according to Duffy's attorney, William Walker of Tucson.

Kelly said he has no recollection of Duffy, and others who remember Duffy at Boys Town said he was deeply troubled and often acted out. "They said he was really a problem, even way back then," Kelly said.

Duffy's lawsuit also accuses another man, Michael Wolf, a counselor who worked at Boy's Town, of sexually abusing him. The men are named in the lawsuit, but they are not defendants. The defendants include the Archdiocese of Nebraska and the home.

Kelly spent the late 1980s and early 1990s as a chaplain at the Saratoga County jail. He also served at St. Mary's in Ballston Spa, according to church records.

In 1992, Kelly moved to Nevada to live near his brother. Hubbard notified the Diocese of Reno of the complaint about Kelly from the 1980s, according to a church statement.

Kelly was listed as retired in the most recent Albany diocesan directory, but he said he has been employed for the past seven years as a chaplain at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City.

For years, the Albany Diocese considered prisons, jails, hospitals and nursing homes to be safe and appropriate assignments for priests known to have sexually abused children, church officials have said.

Kelly is at least the 10th priest who worked in the Albany Diocese in the 1970s whom church officials have identified as an alleged child molester.

In June, Hubbard removed six priests known to have sexually abused a child from active ministry.

Also last summer, the Albany diocesan sexual misconduct panel reviewed Kelly's personnel file and found his actions did not constitute sexual abuse, according to the church statement issued Monday announcing his removal.

Kelly said he officially retired on Tuesday from his job with the state of Nevada.

"This has ruined my life, I have no idea what I'm going to do from now on," he said. Even if he is cleared, he said, he will not go back to his job at the prison. "Inmates are extremely hard on anyone accused of a sexual offense," he said.

Kelly said he has spent a lot of time lately thinking about and praying for his accuser.

"I really wonder where this guy came up with this stuff. He said he, all of the sudden, he remembered this?" Kelly said. "I have been praying for this guy all day long, and I forgive him for whatever he is doing."


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