Former Albemarle priest named in sexual abuse list released by Charlotte diocese

On Monday, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte released a list of 14 clergy members who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse since the diocese was first established in 1972–and one them spent time serving Our Lady of the Annunciation Catholic Church in Albemarle.

In January 2010, the Charlotte diocese contacted Stanly County authorities after learning of an allegation of sexual abuse against Michael Joseph Kelleher posted on an online message board, according to information from the Charlotte diocese. The anonymous writer alleged he was abused by Kelleher at Our Lady of Annunciation Catholic Church in Albemarle in 1977 when he was 14 and Kelleher was pastor.

The diocese removed Kelleher from ministry in June 2010. A month later, the Albemarle police charged him with a felony count of taking indecent liberties with a child and said he admitted the abuse.

In 2014, a judge found Kelleher incompetent to stand trial and dismissed the case. He died a month later.

The Charlotte diocese’s Lay Review Board later found other credible accusations of abuse of minors against Kelleher in the 1970s and 1980s in Charlotte and Hendersonville.

Besides Our Lady of Annunciation Catholic Church in Albemarle, Kelleher served 11 other assignments during his career, including serving at St. Patrick Cathedral and Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Charlotte, St. Lawrence Catholic Church (now Basilica) in Asheville and Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Lexington.

Originally ordained in 1953, Kelleher retired in 1999.

The diocese, which serves more than 400,000 Catholics in 46 counties across the state, said no current clergy working for it has been credibly accused of molesting minors. The Charlotte diocese also listed 23 clergy members who served in the Charlotte diocese without incident but were accused of misconduct elsewhere and six who served western North Carolina before the establishment of the diocese in 1972.

Allegations were deemed credible either through law enforcement, the diocese’s Lay Review Board or a review of the diocese’s personnel files.

“It is painful to even try to comprehend such gravely immoral behavior, particularly for those who have carried the burden of sexual abuse by clergy,” Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis wrote in a letter published Monday along with the list of the accused clergy.

“However, in speaking with survivors and hearing their stories, it is clear to me that making known the names of their abusers can promote healing for them and their families.”

Jugis wrote the list is a “culmination of a process that began more than a year ago.” While most were named years ago, to make sure “this accounting was comprehen sive, the diocese engaged independent investigators to review some 1,600 personnel and other historical records dating back almost 50 years.”

Jugis continued: “I am grateful for the courage and strength of abuse survivors who have shared their most private pain so those responsible could be held accountable and children today can be protected from harm. I pray the information we are sharing will provide some measure of healing and restoration of trust – for victims and for our many brothers and sisters in Christ whose confidence in the Church hierarchy has been shaken and who have felt betrayed by the way some Church leaders handled abuse allegations in the past.”