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Accused of abuse, priest is on leave

The Rev. Timothy Kelley voluntarily steps aside after a former altar boy says he was molested in 1983.

By STEPHEN NOHLGREN
Published September 3, 2003

TAMPA - The Rev. Timothy Kelley, an assistant pastor at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Tampa, took voluntary leave last week while the diocese investigates an allegation that he molested a boy 20 years ago.

Kelley, 56, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But he denied the allegations Sunday in a statement to parishioners.

"Someone who has been a friend of mine has falsely accused me of misconduct with him when he was a minor," Kelley said. "I will do everything I can to defend my innocence and to help the diocese come to the truth."

Neither Kelley nor the diocese identified Kelley's accuser, but the allegations were outlined in a lawsuit filed Friday in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.

Until 1982, Kelley was a priest in the Diocese of Buffalo, the suit says. There, he befriended an altar boy identified in the suit as John Doe.

"John Doe developed a close relationship with Kelley, like that of a father and son. Kelley took John Doe to baseball games and movies, and even bought him Christmas gifts," the suit says.

According to the suit, Kelley relocated in 1982 to the Diocese of St. Petersburg, which encompasses the Tampa Bay area. In August 1983, the suit says, he brought John Doe and his brother to Florida for a weeklong vacation, at which time he performed oral sex on John Doe, then 13.

The abuse caused permanent psychological damage, loss of income and loss of faith, the suit says. John Doe repressed memories of the alleged molestation until September 1999, the suit says. It doesn't say what prompted the memories to return, but Florida's statute of limitations required the suit to be filed within four years, which ended Monday.

The dioceses of Buffalo and St. Petersburg are both defendants in the suit, as is Kelley. The St. Petersburg Diocese already has a compelling defense, said its attorney, Joseph DiVito.

According to church records, Kelley had no assignments in the St. Petersburg Diocese until Nov. 1, 1983 - after the plaintiff says the abuse occurred. Kelley was a priest of the Buffalo Diocese and not under any supervisory control by St. Petersburg.

And the Buffalo Diocese has no record of any complaints against Kelley, DiVito said. That diocese could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Kelley served in the St. Petersburg Diocese from 1983 to 1986, then left the priesthood for many years. DiVito said Kelley worked for a time at the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, the state's massive social service agency, which has since changed names.

In 2002, with allegations of molestation sweeping the country, Kelley asked to be readmitted to the priesthood. He passed a fingerprint and background check.

He was assigned to St. Timothy, 4015 Ragg Road in the Northdale area of Hillsborough County.

DiVito could not identify any parishes where Kelley served from 1983 through 1986. Announcements of Kelley's leave have not been made at those parishes, DiVito said, because the investigation is just in a preliminary stage.

"He is presumed innocent. No announcements will be made until there is a determination of the facts," DiVito said.

In a written statement to the St. Petersburg Times, Bishop Robert Lynch reiterated the church's zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse.

He urged people who feel they have been abused by any church employee to call victim assistance minister Marti Zeitz toll-free at 1-866-407-4505.

- Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at 727 893-8442 or nohlgren@sptimes.com

[Last modified September 3, 2003, 01:32:04]


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