Archbishop Kelly Says He Has No Plans to Resign

By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
Downloaded June 12, 2003

Roman Catholic Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly insisted yesterday that he will stay in office until his mandatory retirement in three years, saying that even if he offered his resignation, the Vatican would not accept it.

And he hasn't offered it, Kelly , who will turn 72 next month , said in a phone interview a day after the archdiocese agreed to pay $25.7 million to settle 240 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests and other church workers.

"First of all , the policy of the Holy See (the Vatican) is never to accept a resignation under the kind of pressure these folks would be generating," said Kelly, the spiritual leader of 200,000 Catholics in the archdiocese. "So, even if I were myself to yield, it would not be possible to have this accepted by the Vatican."

Lawyers for victims raise d the possibility of his resignation during negotiations toward Tuesday's historic settlement - the largest single payout ever made by a diocese in the United States without money from insurance - but Kelly said that was not an option.

Kelly cited reports that Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien , under pressure from the local prosecutor, asked Vatican officials about the possibility of resigning but that the Vatican said that was not an option . O'Brien acknowledged concealing sex ual -abuse allegations in an agreement with prosecutors.

"He was under far more pressure than I, and when he submitted his resignation it was turned down," Kelly said.

The Vatican did accept Boston Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation after his handling of abusive priests triggered the worldwide crisis over clergy sex abuse last year, but Kelly has said that was a "very different situation."

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said she didn't know if "there's any formal policy" at the Vatican concerning resignations under public pressure. But Walsh, who also speaks for the Vatican Embassy, said Catholic bishops are appointed by the pope rather than elected so that they "should not be subject to public pressure. They (church officials) want decisions based on principle , not based on majority vote."

Meanwhile, officials with the archdiocese, which already planned to cut 34 jobs in the fiscal year beginning July as part of a $2 million budget cut, are now looking at possible further cuts. The archdiocese's Finance Council plans to meet next week, though Kelly said it's too soon to say what cuts would be recommended.

Kelly said yesterday he knows that overseeing the second - largest total payout in the history of the Catholic Church 's sex-abuse cases "will be the lead on my obituary."

But he said that while abuse victims and their advocates are calling for his resignation, most of the mail and calls he has received are urging him to stay

Interviews yesterday with a small number of parishioners and volunteers at the Cathedral of the Assumption yielded mostly praise for Kelly, even from one person who said he should resign. But most said he should stay.

"I really don't see a reason why he should resign," cathedral member John Norton of Corydon, Ind., said after noontime Mass. "I think he is taking responsibility for what has occurred in the past."

Norton said the crisis hasn't shaken his faith, adding that it has made him "want to pray more for those people who are the victims and for the church."

While many of the abuse cases predate Kelly's arrival in Louisville in 1982, he has come under fire for keeping the Rev. Thomas Creagh in ministry in 1983 after the priest admitted molesting a teenage boy.

He also allowed known abusers such as the Rev. Louis E. Miller and the Rev. Daniel Clark to continue ministering, though Kelly has maintained he put restrictions on their ministries.

Vera Gardner said she believed Kelly handled abusive priests based on the best advice he had at the time from psychological experts.

"He is a very caring person," Gardner, an Ursuline nun from Louisville, said as she worked in the kitchen of the cathedral's Sandefur Hall, cutting up strawberries in preparation for one of the daily lunches served to about 100 homeless people.

She expressed confidence that Kelly and other bishops across the nation will resolve the crisis.

"It's going to be OK," she said. "I'm very optimistic."

Kay Grube of New Albany, Ind., another kitchen volunteer, said she was stunned by the size of the settlement, and she said she believe s Kelly should resign, though she admires his achievements .

"That's a hard thing to say here," she said. "I think he's a wonderful man, but I can't get past it. He was clearly part of the problem. I'm not so offended that I would leave (the church), but it was a huge mistake, and there should be some personal repercussions, not just from the bank account from the (church) community at large. Accountability, I guess, is what I think should be respected."

Grube stressed that she has "enormous respect" for Kelly's overall administration of the archdiocese and for his candid admission in 1996 that he was entering treatment for addictions with alcohol and painkillers. "I think he has been a very accountable person" in such areas, she said.

Bob Silva, a retired teacher who worked for 42 years in Catholic schools, said he was "very much in favor" of Kelly.

"He's a very, very compassionate person," said Silva, also a kitchen volunteer. "He did the right thing to stay and see this through. Anybody can hit and run. I think he should be a part of the healing."

Like many, Silva said he was relieved by the settlement.

"It's justice ; it had to be done," he said of the large payment. At the same time, he said he wishes there were also funds to keep urban schools open and maintain other church activities that have recently been discontinued .

Everyone voiced relief at the settlement.

"I'm glad there's a settlement and we can move on," said David White of Louisville, a recent Catholic convert who said he was neutral on the question of whether Kelly should stay.

Also yesterday, a spokesman for a local order of Franciscans expressed satisfaction with the settlement.

The Conventual Franciscans' Province of Our Lady of Consolation, based in Southern Indiana, was named as a co-defendant in 19 of the lawsuits, alleging abuse by three of its members working in the Archdiocese of Louisville.

The Franciscans are sharing in the $25.7 million payout, though neither they nor the archdiocese would say how much each organization was paying.

"The only thing I can really say is it's our desire that this settlement brings resolution and healing for all the parties," he said.

He said the Franciscans, like the archdiocese, were not covered by insurance, but he did not believe the payout would affect the religious order's ministries, which range from the Franciscan Shelter House, serving meals to the homeless in Louisville's Smoketown neighborhood to its Mount St. Francis retreat house in Floyd County, Ind.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.