David Kelley had worked in parishes, schools and hospitals for three decades in Greater Cincinnati before the sexual abuse accusations prompted lawsuits and his suspension from the priesthood in 2003.
Kelley, 60, died before the Vatican could determine whether he should be permanently removed from the priesthood. Although he had been barred from presiding at Mass or working as a priest, he would have been permitted to be buried as a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Kelley was accused in lawsuits of being one of the most prolific child abusers implicated in the clergy abuse scandal in Cincinnati. At least 26 men claimed Kelley abused them and many also said the archdiocese ignored warnings about his behavior for years.
Church officials have acknowledged that Kelley was sent to a New Mexico treatment facility in 1987 for counseling related to alcoholism and sexual issues.
Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said Kelley's family held private funeral services after his death and asked that details not be disclosed. He said the archdiocese on Thursday notified the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which has worked with several of Kelley's accusers.
"I hope he's at peace, and I hope they're at peace," Andriacco said of the alleged victims.
Christy Miller, SNAP's co-director in Cincinnati, said she hopes Kelley's death provides some closure to his accusers, many of whom were frustrated by the legal process or intimidated about coming forward with their accusations.
All of the lawsuits against Kelley were thrown out because they were filed years after the statute of limitations had expired.
"This isn't going to be an easy time for the victims. They're going to think about it again," Miller said. "But he's not here. He can't hurt you. He can't hurt anyone else any more."
Kelley was ordained in 1974 and worked as a teacher at Elder High School for several years. He also was associate pastor at St. Teresa, St. Therese the Little Flower and Our Lady of Victory parishes in Cincinnati. He served as a hospital chaplain in Dayton and at Mercy Anderson Hospital in the late 1980s and 1990s.