Bishop Howard Hubbard removed an Albany diocesan priest from the active ministry on Monday after learning the priest was accused in a federal lawsuit last week of molesting a boy in the 1970s, church officials said.
The Rev. James F. Kelly, who was until last week a prison chaplain in Carson City, Nev., had been accused of sexual misconduct while working in Rensselaer in the 1980s, church officials said.
Hubbard called Kelly on Monday to notify him of his removal, one day after the bishop learned about the new lawsuit filed in Omaha, Neb., church officials said.
Kelly, who grew up in Green Island and was former principal of Keveny Academy in Cohoes, was accused in the lawsuit of molesting a boy in Nebraska in 1978, when Kelly was the director of spiritual affairs at Boys Town, the home for wayward youths founded by Father Edward Flannigan and depicted in the 1938 Oscar-winning moving starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney.
Kelly denied the allegations in the lawsuit against Boys Town, according to the Omaha World Herald, which first reported the case. The man who filed the suit said Kelly was one of two employees who abused him when he lived at Boys Town.
Kelly was placed on administrative leave by the bishop, pending a complete investigation. Six other Albany priests were permanently removed from active ministry by Hubbard in June for sexually abusing children after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a zero-tolerance rule for pedophile priests.
Normally, priests are not removed from the ministry until the diocese conducts an investigation to determine whether the allegations are credible. But in Kelly’s case, Hubbard said he took extra precaution because of the complaint Kelly faced in Rensselaer in the 1980s. Kelly worked at St. Joseph’s in Rensselaer in 1983 and 1984, church officials said.
The diocese investigated the complaint in the 1980s and found Kelly’s actions did not constitute sexual abuse. He was, however, sent for therapy and evaluation before returning to the ministry.
Church officials said the diocesan sexual misconduct review board re-examined Kelly’s record last year after the church nationwide adopted new rules barring all priests who sexually abused children.
The sexual misconduct panel also found Kelly’s actions in the 1980s did not constitute sexual abuse, church officials said.
Albany diocese officials said they have been investigating several complaints against priests who remain on active ministry church officials will not say precisely how many to determine whether the allegations are credible.
Individual bishops have wide discretion over what constitutes a credible allegation and some reports of sexual abuse have been under investigation in Albany since April 2002, church officials have said.
William Burleigh, who sits on the 12-member National Review Board set up to monitor American bishops’ compliance with the new rules adopted last year, recently told the Times Union that initial inquiries to determine credibility should take a matter of days.
Kelly, who was ordained in 1957, served as principal at Keveny Academy from 1969 to 1974. He then spent a year staffing the diocese’s office of youth activities before taking a job at Boys Town, church officials said.
He also worked at St. Agnes/St. Patrick’s in Cohoes from 1985 to 1988, church officials said.
Kelly was a chaplain at the Saratoga County Jail as recently as 1989 and later transferred to the Diocese of Reno in Nevada.
While Albany church officials said Monday that Kelly was working as a prison chaplain in Nevada, a 2002 diocesan directory lists him as retired. Hubbard had notified church leaders in Reno there about the complaint lodged against Kelly in the 1980s, church officials said.