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St. Louis Co. prosecutor criticizes Duluth Diocese on abuse reports

  • Article by: AMY FORLITI
  • Associated Press
  • January 2, 2014 - 7:49 PM

MINNEAPOLIS — The lead prosecutor in St. Louis County said Thursday the Diocese of Duluth should have gone to police immediately upon learning that one of its priests was accused of sexually abusing a child.

County Attorney Mark Rubin said in a statement that he and the diocese have agreed on new procedures to ensure a delay in reporting doesn't happen again.

"All allegations involving the sexual abuse of children by a priest or anyone, should always be reported," Rubin said.

According to Rubin, the diocese waited 15 months before notifying authorities that a woman had come forward in 2012 to report that she was abused by the Rev. Cornelius Kelleher when she was a girl. Rubin said the woman insisted on remaining anonymous.

Because she wanted privacy, Rubin said, the diocese didn't go to authorities and conducted an internal investigation. Kelleher, who had retired in July 2012, was removed from public ministry last October.

Rubin said two more women have since told him Kelleher abused them years ago. None of the cases can be prosecuted, due to statute of limitations laws.

Kelleher has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Diocese spokesman Kyle Eller said the Kelleher case involved a unique situation in which an adult reported childhood abuse by a priest from decades earlier, but also insisted on anonymity.

Rubin said the diocese's policy did not clearly address a situation in which a victim of childhood abuse does not report it until years later. Eller said the diocese worked with Rubin to clarify its policy.

"As a result of that collaboration, we believe we have clear procedures in place to address similar circumstances should they occur in the future," Eller said.

Rubin also said diocesan officials now realize it is incumbent upon them to report allegations promptly.

"The Diocese has also acknowledged that the 15 months that elapsed between the report of sexual abuse by the victim in the Father Kelleher matter and the eventual notice to authorities was far too long and unacceptable," Rubin said.

Rubin said if there is any doubt on whether a case should be reported, the appropriate action is to go to authorities. He said any statute of limitation issues should be left for law enforcement to figure out.

Kelleher served in a dozen parishes in the diocese from 1956 until he retired on July 11, 2012. His last position was pastor of both St. Patrick's Church in Hinckley and St. Joseph's Church in Beroun.

Allegations against him involve alleged abuse of a girl from 1975 to 1986, when he was pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Chisholm.

© 2014 Star Tribune