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Suspicions about 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 Friday.

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 counselor.

"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 counseling oneself."

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

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests