Albany -- Area attorneys say they received calls this week; the Rev. James F. Kelly denies sexual abuse
Several people have come forward this week with new complaints of sexual abuse and misconduct by a priest who worked at a Rensselaer church and school in the 1980s and was removed from ministry on Monday.
The Rev. James F. Kelly on Friday maintained he never molested children but said he was a "strict disciplinarian" and occasionally told young boys to drop their pants for "just a few whacks on the bare behind."
Kelly, who also worked in parishes and schools in Cohoes, said he took groups of high school students for overnight stays at a camp in the Adirondacks in the early 1970s.
Bishop Howard Hubbard removed Kelly, 70, from his most recent post as a prison chaplain in Carson City, Nev., after Kelly was accused in a federal lawsuit last week of molesting a young boy in Nebraska the 1970s.
Hubbard removed him without a preliminary investigation because of a previous complaint about Kelly while serving in Rensselaer, church officials said. Kelly said the accusation dated to 1984 when he was living at the St. Joseph's parish in Rensselaer.
He said the complaint arose because he used corporal punishment and there was "nothing sexual about it." At the time, the diocese found Kelly's conduct did not constitute sexual abuse but sent him to residential therapy as a precautionary measure, church officials said.
Two Capital Region attorneys, Lee Greenstein and John Aretakis, said they received calls this week with new reports of sexual abuse by Kelly. They declined to discuss the cases.
Officials at the Albany diocese did not respond to inquiries whether they had received any new complaints about Kelly this week.
Several people from the St. Joseph's eighth-grade class in 1984, in interviews this week, recalled Kelly's one-on-one talks in the rectory and his sudden departure.
One 33-year-old man who was a 13-year-old eighth-grader at St. Joseph's that year recalled a confrontation with Kelly when the priest brought him into the rectory living quarters and told him to take off his pants.
The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he refused, and when Kelly persisted, the two got into a heated dispute. He was ultimately expelled because of the incident and finished eighth grade at public school in Rensselaer, the man said.
"All these years I've felt like I'm the bad guy for yelling at a priest -- like 'Wow maybe I should have let him pull my pants down and spank me,' " the man said.
The boundaries for appropriate corporal punishment should be clear, said Dr. Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, a psychologist and sexual abuse expert who was chosen by American bishops to speak at their conference in Dallas last year.
"The old days, in the '50s, you would hear about kids receiving corporal punishment -- the Christian Brothers were famous for rapping kids on their knuckles. But it crosses the line of when you start having to disrobe, and it becomes, by definition, sexualized in some way."
"And the fact it's not in public is a problem. Corporal punishment was administered in public and was open in the classroom for everyone to witness. It wasn't done secretly," Frawley-O'Dea said.
Kelly was principal of the Keveny Academy in Cohoes from 1969 to 1974, and he said Friday that he often took groups of boys to a camp in the Adirondacks for weekend retreats.
"Usually six or seven at a time. No individuals at all, it was always a small group, a group," Kelly said.
"Oh, they snuck some beer up there and drank it while I was sleeping," he said. "In no way would I take kids away on the weekend to have beer."
After leaving Keveny, Kelly served as the diocese's director of youth activities until 1975, when he left the Capital Region.
He spent eight years as a chaplain at Boys Town, the home for wayward boys in Nebraska.
In 1978, Kelly allegedly molested numerous children living at the home, according to the lawsuit filed last week in federal court in Omaha by one of his alleged victims, James Duffy.
Duffy, who lives in Tucson, Ariz., had suffered "repressed memory" of the abuse until last year, when a news report about pedophile priests triggered awareness of his troubling past, the lawsuit said. Otherwise, the lawsuit would be barred by statute of limitations.
Duffy said Kelly physically and sexually abused him at the priest's residence on the Boy's Town campus, according to Duffy's attorney, William Walker of Tucson.
Kelly said he has no recollection of Duffy.
Kelly and a counselor who worked at Boy's Town are named in the lawsuit, but they are not defendants. The defendants include the Archdiocese of Nebraska and the home.
Kelly spent the late 1980s and early 1990s as a chaplain at the Saratoga County Jail.
In 1992, he moved to Nevada to live near his brother. Hubbard notified the Diocese of Reno of the complaint about Kelly from the 1980s, according to a church statement.
The Albany diocese considered prisons, jails, hospitals and nursing homes to be appropriate assignments for priests who sexually abused children, church officials have said.
Kelly is at least the 10th priest who worked in the Albany diocese in the 1970s whom church officials have identified as an alleged child molester. In June, Hubbard removed six of the priests from active ministry.
Also last summer, the Albany diocesan sexual misconduct panel reviewed Kelly's personnel file and found his actions did not constitute sexual abuse, according to the statement issued Monday announcing his removal.
Kelly said anyone making claims against him now was exploiting the sexual abuse scandal that has roiled the church nationwide during the past year.
"I think in the atmosphere today, a guy thinks, 'Here is a chance to get some money.' " Kelly said.
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