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Ex-Boys Town Priest Put On Leave

Feb 4, 2003 | Omaha World-Herald

A priest who served at Boys Town in the late 1970s was placed on administrative leave Monday pending an investigation into allegations that he sexually abused a boy while a Boys Town staff member.

The Rev. James Kelly, 70, who had been serving as a prison chaplain in Carson City, Nev., was told Monday of the action by Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, N.Y. Kelly was ordained in the Albany Diocese in 1957.

The Reno Diocese, following Albany's lead, also Monday removed Kelly from public ministry pending the outcome of an investigation.

An Arizona man who filed a lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Omaha alleges that he was molested when he lived in a cottage at Boys Town from 1977 to 1979. He said he was abused in 1978 in separate incidents by Kelly, who then was director of spiritual affairs, and by a family counselor who was a live-in employee at the cottage.

A priest accused in such cases normally would not be placed on administrative leave until a preliminary investigation by his diocese had determined the accusation to be credible, according to the Albany Diocese. But because of a prior complaint against Kelly, Hubbard decided to take the extra precaution of placing Kelly on leave while the latest complaint was investigated, the diocese said.

The earlier complaint was made in the mid-1980s while Kelly served a parish in Rensselaer, N.Y. The Albany Diocese said it investigated the complaint at the time and determined that it did not constitute sexual abuse. As an added safety measure, the diocese said, Kelly was sent to a therapeutic facility for evaluation and therapy before returning to ministry.

In June 2002, following the Catholic Church's adoption of national guidelines addressing priests' conduct, the mid-1980s complaint against Kelly was reviewed by the Albany Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Panel. That panel also determined that Kelly's behavior did not constitute sexual abuse, the diocese said.

Kelly, contacted at his Nevada home Monday night, said the complaint from the 1980s had nothing to do with sexual misconduct. He said it involved concerns that he was too strict of a disciplinarian when he punished students.

Kelly said he expected to be placed on leave after the latest accusation.

"It's not fair that this young guy says I abused him," said Kelly, who said he first learned of the suit when told of it last week by a reporter.

William G. Walker of Tucson, Ariz., who represents the man who filed the suit, could not be reached Monday for comment.

Walker also represents another man who last week filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Lincoln. That man claims he was abused while attending St. Joseph Catholic School in York, Neb., in 1973 and 1974.

Walker has said that his clients didn't remember the assaults until February 2002, when Walker was handling similar cases in Tucson.

Kelly said Monday that he doubts his accuser suddenly remembered abuse from the 1970s. He said it's more likely that the man was influenced by large monetary settlements.

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