Priest turns self in on charge of abuse

Winston-Salem Journal/July 9, 2010

A chaplain at Bishop McGuinness High School turned himself in yesterday on charges that he molested a 14-year-old boy 33 years ago at a church in Albemarle.

Albemarle police charged Father Joseph Kelleher, 82, of 1525 Wood St. in Winston-Salem with one count of indecent liberties with a child.

He was released on a $5,000 bond. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Aug. 9 in Albemarle, according to Albemarle Police Chief Ronnie Michael.

Kelleher is on administrative leave from Bishop McGuiness.

Michael said the allegation is that Kelleher abused the boy in 1977, while Kelleher was pastor of Our Lady of Annunciation in Albemarle. He served the church from April 1973 to August 1977.

The allegations surfaced in September in an Internet chat room for clergy-abuse victims. A man wrote in a post that Kelleher had repeatedly molested him at a church in Albemarle and asked for advice on what to do.

Other people in the chat room encouraged him to go to the police. The man then contacted the Albemarle police department. Separately, an anonymous e-mail directed officials at the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte to the man's posts in the chat room.

After reading the posts, officials at the diocese contacted the Stanly County Department of Social Services and the church started an internal investigation.

Kelleher will be on administrative leave until the investigation is over, said David Hains, a spokesman for the Charlotte diocese.

"When you have a credible allegation of sexual abuse, it puts the safety of children at risk," he said.

Seth Langdon, an attorney for the victim, declined to comment yesterday, saying he didn't want to do anything that would interfere with Kelleher having a fair trial.

Kelleher began his service with the church in 1966 and retired in 1999. He previously served with Bishop McGuinness twice, in 1970 and in 1993, the diocese said.

After his retirement, he went back to Bishop McGuinness. He also served congregations in High Point, Asheboro and Lexington. Kelleher also had led a youth Mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Kernersville. It was unclear yesterday whether Kelleher was still leading that Mass.

A call to Father Paul Dechant of Holy Cross was not immediately returned.

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