In March 1983, Louisville Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly became aware that a local pastor had sexually molested a 15-year-old boy but allowed the Rev. Thomas Creagh to continue leading St. Albert the Great parish.
Two memos written for his own file, and initialed or signed by Kelly on March 9 and June 14 in 1983, show that the archbishop was fearful of church scandal and worked to keep the incident from becoming public.
More than 200 people have suits pending against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville alleging decades of sexual abuse by 34 priests, teachers and others associated with the church. Whether their cases proceed depends in part on their lawyers’ argument that the state’s statute of limitations should not apply because the archdiocese covered up the sexual abuse.
The memos show for the first time that the head of the archdiocese knew of an episode of child sexual abuse but allowed the abuser continued unrestricted access to children.
Kelly oversaw a confidential settlement in 1983 in which the archdiocese and Creagh agreed to pay the family of Gregory C. Hall $20,000.
Creagh is accused in lawsuits of sexually molesting Hall and three other boys between 1974 and 1983. One allegation accuses Creagh of abusing one of the boys at St. Albert after he was allowed to continue there by Kelly.
Creagh resigned last May as pastor of Holy Family Church after being accused of abuse in a lawsuit filed by Hall, of Louisville.
Hall alleges that on March 6, 1983, Creagh offered to give the boy a massage to relieve a sports injury. Hall alleged that Creagh masturbated him. Hall did not return phone calls seeking comment last night.
Kelly permanently barred Creagh from ministry in July 2002 enforcing a tougher policy adopted by U.S. Catholic bishops and effectively confirming he believed that Creagh had molested at least one child.
Kelly was unavailable for comment last night, according to Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer for the archdiocese. Creagh also could not be reached for comment.
Reynolds said yesterday that there is little new in the memos, which are among the thousands of documents officials provided last month to lawyers suing the church over alleged sexual abuse.
”For many people in church leadership, the issue was to avoid scandal so as not only to avoid embarrassment but to avoid hurting the faith,” Reynolds said. ”Far more effort should have been placed on responding to victims and preventing abuse, and particularly repeated abuse by priests, because in the long run greater scandal has occurred.”
Some alleged victims and one advocacy group said yesterday that they would begin a petition drive seeking Kelly’s resignation based on the new information.
The memos show Kelly was concerned about avoiding scandal over the incident and preventing further revelations of abuse, which could bring ”more cases.”
Kelly said in the March 9 memo that Creagh was performing an ”excellent pastoral ministry” at St. Albert. Kelly wrote that Hall’s parents could ”destroy his ministry and harm the parish greatly if they make public accusations.”
Kelly also said in the June 14 memo that he sought the advice of officials from another archdiocese who advised that a priest accused of an ”overtly sexual” incident ”should be removed from his assignment and sent out of the diocese.”
But Kelly concluded the memo by saying that he was keeping Creagh in the parish and that there has not ”been any s(c)andal so far.”
William McMurry, the lawyer representing Hall and about 200 other plaintiffs suing the archdiocese over alleged sexual abuse, said the memos are evidence of a cover-up and placing ”the rights of sexual predators above the health and welfare of the children of the church.”
McMurry provided copies of the memos to The Courier-Journal. The newspaper also obtained Creagh’s personnel file through a records request to Louisville police after they investigated Hall’s allegation last year.
Police declined to seek prosecution last year, saying that even if Hall’s allegation were true, it would amount to a misdemeanor, which is beyond the statute of limitations for prosecution.
Reynolds cautioned against comparing Creagh’s case to that of a known repeat offender. ”It was perceived to be a single incident that was properly addressed,” he said.
Reynolds noted that the archdiocese has never denied that on some occasions it kept priests in ministry after they sexually abused children.
Click to view full-size image
He said that depending on the situation, such priests were sometimes barred permanently, sometimes placed on restricted ministry and sometimes returned to full parish ministry.
Reynolds acknowledged the archdiocese did not report the sexual abuse in the Hall case to police. All Kentucky citizens have been required by law since 1964 to report suspicions of child abuse.
But he noted that the attorney who negotiated the settlement for the Halls, Bruce Miller, was Jefferson County attorney at the time and was responsible for prosecuting misdemeanors.
Miller said last night that he believed that as county attorney he had been notified of the alleged incident. He said he told Hall’s parents they had the option to bring criminal charges but that they declined out of concern for the possible impact publicity might have on their son.
Reynolds said that ”since the authorities were fully aware, because the county attorney was there, there was no need for the archdiocese to take further action.”
Reynolds added that in 1986, Creagh received a psychological evaluation by a Catholic therapeutic center in Florida known as the House of Affirmation and was deemed to be fit for ministry.
A copy of that evaluation, obtained by The Courier-Journal, confirms the positive evaluation but it also makes no mention of sexuality or ventures any opinion about whether Creagh posed a risk of sexual misconduct.
The release of Kelly’s memos has prompted a group advocating for victims of sexual abuse, The Linkup, to schedule a news conference at archdiocesan headquarters today to launch a petition drive calling for Kelly’s resignation.
Susan Archibald, president of The Linkup, said the memos indicate ”Archbishop Kelly played an active role in covering up abuses in the diocese.”
Reynolds said Kelly would remain on the job to lead the church through difficult days.
”Kelly has taken several steps to respond to the crisis, including appointing a new review board of priests and lay people to investigate abuse cases,” Reynolds said.
”Nowadays it would be done differently, no question about that,” Reynolds said of the Creagh case. ”I do not agree with the assessment that nothing was done to address the situation at the time. Father Creagh was not removed and nowadays he would be.”
Kelly became archbishop of Louisville in 1982. The issue of clergy sexual abuse, though known to church officials for decades, did not become nationally known until 1985, when a Louisiana case became the first of several spectacular cases to be reported.
The archdiocese adopted its first policy on sexual abuse in 1993. It allowed some abusers to stay in ministry under certain conditions. That policy was superseded by last year’s decision of Catholic bishops nationwide to bar all abusers from ministry for life.
In the March 9 memo, Kelly said that Creagh had met with him. The memo said Creagh had sexually abused Hall.
Hall reported the incident to his parents, who reported it to Hall’s principal at Trinity High School.
”I told Father Creagh that I had to view this incident in what I regard is an excellent pastoral ministry at St. Albert’s, and that it would not be my indication to remove him from office there,” Kelly wrote.
”The parents could, of course, destroy his ministry and harm the parish greatly if they make public accusations. In that case, Tom would have to go.”
In a memo written June 14, 1983, Kelly said that while ”Father Creagh did not express remorse over the incident, he was clearly embarrassed at having to confess the incident.”
Kelly wrote that the Halls, their attorney, Miller, and his wife, Norma Miller, also an attorney, came to the archdiocesan offices on March 18 and ”demanded $150,000 in damages, the removal of Father Creagh from his parish, and absolute assurance that such an incident would not occur again in the archdiocese.
”I found the demands extortionary, and the attitudes hostile and vindictive,” Kelly wrote.
In his June 14 memo, Kelly wrote that he visited with officials from another archdiocese, who made several points, including that a priest involved in a sexual incident should be removed.
Kelly said he was advised that it was appropriate to offer the victim money for medical expenses but ”if the incident gets any publicity, it is likely that more cases will follow.”
Kelly noted that the archdiocese and Creagh reached an agreement to each pay the Halls $10,000. ”Father Creagh never had to be absent from the parish, nor has there been any s(c)andal so far,” Kelly wrote.
Creagh is accused of sexual abuse in four of the lawsuits against the archdiocese. One of the plaintiffs alleged abuse in 1974; another in 1980. A third, Michael Sheehan, says Creagh molested him in December 1983 — several months after the alleged incident with Hall. Sheehan could not be reached for comment last night.
”If Father Creagh went on and abused others after this event, then certainly Father Creagh should never have been left at St. Albert’s,” Reynolds acknowledged. ”That’s the greatest tragedy of all.”