Former Charlotte priest admitted he sexually abused boy, document says Kelleher, a former Charlotte priest, charged in Albemarle; more victims are alleged.

The Charlotte Observer/December 2, 2011

A Catholic priest who served in Charlotte confessed to police that he sexually abused a 14-year-old boy from Albemarle 34 years ago, according to court documents filed this week by a prosecutor.

The documents also indicate that the case against Father Joseph Kelleher may be broader than previously reported.

"Multiple victims have come forward with allegations that they were also sexually abused by Father Joseph Kelleher ... at various locations where (he) was assigned," the documents state. Kelleher, who is 83 and retired in Winston-Salem, declined Friday to comment and referred questions to his attorney, Charles Brown of Albemarle. Brown could not be reached.

Kelleher was criminally charged last year after a man sought advice in an Internet chat room for clergy-abuse victims. The man said a priest had molested him years ago. People in the chat room urged him to contact police, which he did.

Kelleher was charged with taking indecent liberties while pastor of Our Lady of Annunciation in Albemarle in the mid-1970s.

A week later, a second man accused Kelleher of fondling him at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Charlotte in 1981. Charlotte police investigated, but have not filed any charges.

Kelleher also served at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Charlotte, other churches in North Carolina, his native Ireland and in New Zealand. He was serving as chaplain at Bishop McGuiness High School in Kernersville when arrested in July 2010.

The accusations against Kelleher come more than 10 years after widespread reports of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and cover-ups by their bishops. The Catholic Church has paid more than $2 billion in abuse settlements in the United States, including a $1 million settlement in Charlotte involving the Rev. Robert Yurgel, now in prison.

Kelleher allegedly assaulted the 14-year-old boy in the parlor of the rectory at Our Lady of Annunciation in Albemarle, according to documents filed by Kisha Scott, an assistant district attorney. "Father Kelleher admitted to touching the victim's penis ...," the documents stated.

The documents asked that the Catholic Church turn over all records pertaining to Kelleher, including his personnel file, any secret files and any records for treatment of psycho-sexual issues, sexual addiction or alcoholism. Diocese of Charlotte spokesman David Hains declined to comment about the case, but said the diocese has routinely cooperated with law enforcement.

In a related lawsuit, the alleged victim and another man have sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, saying diocesan officials should have known that abuse was taking place at Our Lady of Annunciation Church in Albemarle and at Our Lady of the Assumption in Charlotte. Attorneys Seth Langson of Charlotte and Leto Copeley of Durham, who filed the civil case, declined Friday to comment on the revelations in the criminal case.

"All we want is for justice to be done," Langson said, "whatever that might be."

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