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Women File Suit Against Diocese

Courts: They say it didn't protect them from abuse by a Massachusetts priest in the 1980s. He later went to jail for raping a girl in an unrelated case.

July 02, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — Five women have sued a Massachusetts diocese, alleging that it failed to protect them when they were young children in the 1980s from sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest--one who later served prison time for raping a girl.

Jeffrey Newman, the plaintiffs' attorney, said Monday that he expects seven other women to join soon in the suit filed Friday against the Diocese of Worcester. Experts said the case is unusual in the ongoing scandal of sexual abuse by priests because all of the alleged victims are female.

The priest named in the lawsuit is Robert Kelley, 60, who owns a flower shop in Cambridge, Mass., with his brother. Kelley, who served seven years in prison after pleading guilty to raping a girl in an unrelated case, ceased active work in the priesthood in 1985.

The lawsuit alleges negligence by the diocese but does not detail acts by Kelley. In an interview, plaintiff Heather Mackey, 26, said Kelley took a special interest in her when she was as young as 5, attending St. Cecilia's in Leominster with her grandmother.

"He would say, 'Oh, this is boring for a little girl, she doesn't want to sit here for a couple of hours--let me take care of her. Let me take her out for ice cream,' " she said. "My grandmother was one of the most religious people you have ever known. She did not think a priest could do anything wrong."

Kelley was charged last month with five counts of rape in which Mackey was the alleged victim. He has pleaded not guilty.

Msgr. Thomas Sullivan of the Worcester diocese called the charges against Kelley "a very different matter" than the bulk of cases that have unfolded since the scandal erupted in January.

"Most of the allegations that have been made here and also other places have involved young boys," he said. "But the girls are starting to get more attention, particularly involving allegations against [Kelley]. The fact that these [female] victims are coming forward, we welcome that."

But Dr. Richard Sipe, a psychiatrist in La Jolla, Calif., who is also a former priest, said Monday that women face obstacles in coming forward with sexual abuse complaints against clergy members. "The abuse of young women and young girls [by priests] is vastly underreported," he said.

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