Kelly Reflects on Decisions during Crisis, Case's Impact on Him

Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)
June 15, 2003

In an interview with The Courier-Journal on Thursday, Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly spoke of his decision to work toward last week's $25.7 million settlement with 243 plaintiffs in 240 lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Louisville. He also talked of the impact of the crisis on himself, priests and other church staff, and about the handling of abuse allegations over the years.

Question: Can you tell about the decision to go to mediation?

Answer: I felt it (a legal battle) would be such a long anguish over the church and the victims that it would be the wrong way to go. There was no way to anticipate the money side of it. But I believed the victims were troubled by the court process because of the interrogations that necessarily were put to them. That bothered me a lot. I couldn't imagine why we would put them through that anguish all over again.

Q: You've made it clear you're not going to step down. You say the support from the Catholic community has been positive.

A: I do believe the mail I'm getting. An awful lot of people have taken the opportunity to write to say they do not want me to even consider this possibility.

Q: The archdiocese has lots of ecumenical relations ; it has lots of civic relations. Some of its charitable agencies receive government grants. So you also have a stake in how people feel in the wider community. Do you sense support or a lack of support?

A: I have many friends in the other Christian churches and the Jewish community as well. They have been very kind and supportive. I would be hesitant to speak about the broader community. I think many people see this as an internal question for Catholics to resolve and now we are at least on the road to resolution.

Q: Personally speaking, how has this affected you?

A: I have found it a very exhausting experience, not just for me but for my colleagues, my staff here. It's been a long haul. Watching them exhaust themselves on this has been the cause of exhaustion to me more than anything else.

I'm going to need the usual minor repair work, get away for a short period of time. I need to retreat. I feel as if I could sleep for a year.

Q: Any regrets about how you handled any cases, any things you would have done differently over the last 21 years?

A: I probably would have taken a more comprehensive approach to the complaints of victims. By that I mean that I would not have been satisfied with a single interview. I would have wanted to know more about them and their welfare. It's also true that the victims I met with didn't want to talk very much with me.

Their chief point in conversations with me was to prevent any further harm to children. I didn't always realize that that meant removing a priest immediately from ministry.

Q: Wouldn't removing the offender be the most obvious solution to preventing future abuse?

A: You know, we always understood this as moral fault, not as addictive behavior, and when you got a promise from the perpetrator that he would never do it again and was so ashamed and humiliated by what he had done, it seemed like he would not act out again.

The problem, though, began to reveal itself in very slow stages. That's another part of it. When I came here I scarcely knew what pedophilia meant. I believe that was the situation in many dioceses in the country.

Q: You were on some occasions able to remove priests completely from ministry -Father Clark after his conviction, and Father Dollinger up in Canada. So it was an option.

(After the Rev. Dan Clark's 1988 conviction for sexual abuse, Kelly removed him from parish ministry assignments, though Clark continued to volunteer and has been re arrested on charges of molesting the children of a family friend. The Rev. Robert Dollinger left the archdiocese to live with his brother, a priest in Prince Edward Island, in the 1980s but remained under Kelly's jurisdiction. After accusers came forward in the early 1990s, Kelly had Dollinger evaluated by a psychologist who said his suspicion was that Dollinger would not pose a further danger to children. Kelly planned to authorize Dollinger to remain in ministry but then removed him in 1994 at the insistence of a victim, according to church records. Dollinger, now 76, was named in four of the settled lawsuits.)

A: Well they were different, weren't they. For example, Father Clark had been convicted, and that made quite a difference. You couldn't have somebody who was publicly convicted in such a position. Father Dollinger was under threat of exposure and public prosecution if he returned to this country.

One thing I have to emphasize here is it's easy to seek generalizations with these things, but it's a kind of a wrong-headed way to go, because in each one of them you have a different record both of ministry and of criminal action. And you have a different response from the victims. That's one reason I wrote the memos, so I could eventually work myself toward at least the establishment of working assumptions in these cases.

Q: On the other hand it raises the question if someone isn't publicly known (as an abuser), couldn't the members of the church actually be more at risk?

A: Well, I see that now because now we know about the addictive nature of such behavior, but we did not know that then. I was not out of contact with reputable psychiatrists about this business, but they too, they were up front about saying they did not know much about it yet.

Q: Last year before this whole thing broke, there were about a half-dozen priests who you knew or had pretty credible allegations against who were still ministering in some way. ... Was leaving them in ministry doing right by the parishioners?

A: I've never done the numbers, but I don't believe there was much acting out during that latter period (the 1990s to the present). I can only look back on it and say I would have done it differently, but what I did seemed to be working.

Q: And can you state categorically that there's no one out there (in active ministry) that you have an admission or a confirmed accusation against?

A: I'm pretty sure I can state unequivocally that there's no one out there. You know, you have to make a judgment in those cases the crime was really committed. Now, if accusations are made now, we put the priest on leave until we can work it out.

Q: There's no one out there in ministry against whom you have a substantiation of a past event of abuse of a minor?

A: That is correct.


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