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Lawsuit filed against Charlotte diocese over abuse claims involving Father Kelleher
CHARLOTTE — Attorneys for two men who say they were abused as children by Father Joseph Kelleher filed a civil lawsuit Sept. 28 against the Diocese of Charlotte in Mecklenburg County Superior Court.
The two men say they were abused by Father Kelleher as teenagers, one at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church in Albemarle in 1977, and the other in about 1980 at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Charlotte, the lawsuit contends.
Father Kelleher, now retired from diocesan ministry and living in Winston-Salem after more than 40 years in priestly ministry, has been under criminal investigation by Albemarle and Charlotte police since the diocese alerted authorities to an anonymous abuse allegation in early 2010. The priest – who had most recently served as chaplain of Bishop McGuinness High School in Kernersville – has been on administrative leave since June 2010, pending an outcome to the investigations.
The two men are being represented by attorneys Seth Langson and Leto Copley of Charlotte. In their complaint against the diocese, the unnamed men allege that the diocese "knew or should have known since at least the 1970's that Kelleher was abusing minors" and that the diocese was negligent in its oversight of Kelleher.
David Hains, diocesan director of communications, said the diocese has not seen the lawsuit and cannot comment at this time.
Stanly County officials investigated a claim last year that the priest sexually molested a teenaged boy in the mid-1970s while at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church, where he was pastor from 1973 to 1977. Father Kelleher was arrested in July 2010 by Albemarle police and charged with one count of taking indecent liberties with a child. A Stanly County magistrate released him on a $5,000 bond; his case is pending in Stanly County Superior Court.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police opened an investigation at the same time. No charges have been filed in that case. The diocese first contacted authorities when an online post of an allegation of sexual misconduct was brought to its attention in January 2010. The diocese is cooperating fully with the police investigation, Hains said.
While he is on administrative leave, Father Kelleher cannot publicly celebrate Mass or the sacraments and he cannot appear in public wearing priestly attire.
Father Kelleher was ordained in 1953 in Ireland. He was a Trappist monk at Southern Star Abbey in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, until he joined the Diocese of Raleigh in 1966. In 1972 when the Charlotte diocese was carved out of the Raleigh diocese, he was serving as pastor of St. John Church in Waynesville. He remained with the Charlotte diocese until he retired in 1999.
Other parishes in the Charlotte diocese where he served include: St. Joseph Church in Asheboro, the Basilica of St. Lawrence in Asheville, St. Patrick Cathedral in Charlotte, Immaculate Conception Church in Hendersonville, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in High Point, Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Lexington, and St. Dorothy Church in Lincolnton.
He returned to Bishop McGuinness High School to serve as chaplain in 1999. In his retirement, Father Kelleher also celebrated Mass at Holy Cross Church in Kernersville.
— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor
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