Ohio priest kept hidden
Seminary wasn't aware former Vandalia priest
had been accused of sex abuse
By Tom Beyerlein
Dayton Daily News
March 7, 2004
Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk knew the Rev. David
Kelley's shameful secrets when he conferred a master of arts
degree in pastoral counseling upon him at graduation ceremonies
at the Athenaeum of Ohio seminary.
But others at the Oct. 20, 2002, ceremony, including top
Athenaeum officials, didn't know the truth about Kelley.
They didn't know that Kelley, who formerly served at St.
Christopher Church in Vandalia, had been under suspicion of
sexually abusing boys for almost 20 years. That the archdiocese
had ordered him to undergo counseling at a New Mexico treatment
facility for alcoholic and sexually abusive priests in 1987.
That the archdiocese in 1994 had substantiated a man's claim
that Kelley fondled him as a boy in the 1970s. That just five
months before the graduation ceremonies, the archdiocese had
stripped Kelley of his job as a hospital chaplain after two
men came to the hospital and confronted him with allegations
that he had molested them as children.
Pilarczyk also knew that under a "zero tolerance"
policy he and his fellow U.S. bishops had voted in place that
June under pressure from the faithful, Kelley and other abusers
should be permanently removed from the priesthood.
A spokesman for the Athenaeum said the institution never
would have accepted Kelley as a student if officials had known
about his past.
But only Pilarczyk and a small handful of his top aides knew
and, under Pilarczyk's 1993 "Child Protection
Decree," they weren't telling. That decree allowed abusive
priests to remain in the ministry after psychological treatment,
and for their identities to remain secret.
"If we had known that was going on, he wouldn't have
gotten into the (master's degree) program," Athenaeum
spokesman Walt Schaeffer said. "It was a pretty good
shock here when we found out."
Two years ago this month, Pilarczyk opened a hornet's nest
when he offhandedly mentioned to reporters that five priests
who had sexually abused children were restored to ministry
in his 19-county archdiocese, which includes the Miami Valley.
Kelley was one of those five, but the archdiocese didn't publicly
identify him until last August.
By that time, Kelley, while still a priest, was working outside
the archdiocese's employ as a counselor at Northland Intervention
Center in suburban Cincinnati. The center treats adolescents
who are sent there by court order. Kelley left Northland abruptly
after his past was revealed. He could not be reached for comment
Dan Andriacco, a spokesman for Pilarczyk, said he doesn't
know if Kelley's pastoral counseling degree helped him to
get the Northland job.
Schaeffer said Kelley's tuition was paid by the archdiocese's
priests continuing education fund. Kelley enrolled in September
1999 and passed a battery of psychological tests the Athenaeum
gives to all its pastoral counseling students, Schaeffer said.
But he said Kelley didn't reveal anything about his past.
After Pilarczyk mentioned the unnamed five abusive priests
still in ministry, Schaeffer said he asked archdiocese officials
for the names, but "I couldn't even find out. They kept
it pretty close to the vest."
"The bottom line is, we, just like anyone else, were
not privy to those five names," he said. "We didn't
know, and I think had we known he would not be allowed to
continue his education. I don't know how he could have. We
would not put him into any kind of pastoral role, had we known."
Since Kelley was named, 38 men have filed lawsuits against
him, Pilarczyk and the archdiocese, saying Kelley abused them
as children and the archdiocese failed to stop him. That makes
him the most-accused of the 14 suspended archdiocesan priests
now awaiting possible defrocking.
"He is one of the top abusers," said Christy Miller,
head of the Cincinnati chapter of Survivors Network of those
Abused by Priests. "Here's a serial abuser getting a
degree in pastoral counseling. Good grief."
Among Kelley's accusers are two men who say archdiocese officials
knowingly transferred him in 1983 to St. Christopher, where
he molested them when they were 14 years old. Kelley left
the Vandalia parish in 1987 when another complaint surfaced
and the archdiocese sent him to New Mexico for treatment.
Andriacco has said that archdiocese officials had concerns
about Kelley's activities with boys in 1983 and 1987, but
no one accused Kelley of having sexual contact with a minor
until the 1994 allegation, which stemmed from an incident
in the late 1970s. Kelley didn't deny that accusation.
Andriacco said Kelley's past doesn't mean he can't be a good
"We wouldn't necessarily restrict somebody from getting
a degree because of that kind of background," Andriacco
said, referring to Kelley's Athenaeum degree. "We wouldn't
want them to be working with children. (But) many counselors
are themselves what they call wounded healers. One is not
necessarily barred from being a counselor because one is in
But Andriacco said archdiocese officials were "totally
astonished" at the number of Kelley's accusers, and he
suggested that leaders may have erred by not informing the
Athenaeum of Kelley's abusive history.
"We have undoubtedly done a lot of things in the entire
area of child abuse that we would do differently if we had
it to do over," he said. "But we don't. We can't
undo the past."
Contact Tom Beyerlein at 225-2264 or tbeyerlein@DaytonDailyNews.com