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Father Cornelius Kelleher(right) with Bishop Paul Sirba and parishioners Joel and Tamara Burch at St Patrick Church in Hinckley Photo by: dioceseduluth.org

Retired Irish priest removed from ministry due to sex abuse claims

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Father Cornelius Kelleher(right) with Bishop Paul Sirba and parishioners Joel and Tamara Burch at St Patrick Church in Hinckley Photo by: dioceseduluth.org

A retired Irish priest has been removed from ministry as the Diocese of Duluth in Minnesota investigates claims of child sexual abuse more than a generation ago.

The 81-year-old Rev. Cornelius Kelleher has been ‘credibly accused’ according to a statement from the diocese.

The retired Catholic priest served much of his career in the Northland.

The report says that the diocese announced on Sunday that he ‘has recently been credibly accused in the sexual abuse of a minor female during his time as pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Chisholm from 1975 to 1986’.

The statement, reported in the Duluth News Tribune, said that when the accusation came to light, Kelleher was immediately removed from public ministry. He has been stripped of his abilities to function as a priest in retirement.

Kelleher retired in 2012 after working since 1956 as a priest at the following parishes: St. James, Duluth; St. Joseph, Crosby; Holy Family, Eveleth; St. Mary, Cook; St. Bridget, Greaney; St. Benedict, Duluth; St. Joseph, Gnesen; St. Joseph, Lakewood; St. Joseph, Chisholm; St. Andrew, Brainerd; St. Patrick, Hinckley, and St. Joseph, Beroun.

Diocese spokesman Kyle Eller told the News Tribune that a letter from Bishop Paul Sirba was sent during the weekend to every parish where Kelleher served before the church issued a news release.

Eller said: “The primary reason we reach out is to make sure that if anyone else was hurt that they make it known.”

The report adds that on Saturday, the Rev. Eric Hastings of St. Benedict’s read Sirba’s letter at the 5 p.m. Mass, according to attendee Robert Miller.

Miller told the News Tribune: “I will say this, that when Father Eric read the letter aloud to the congregation, he wept and called the acts of Kelleher a betrayal of everything Christ and St. Paul stood for and taught.”

Bishop Sirba wrote: “I deeply regret the long-lasting and devastating effects of sexual misconduct on the part of clergy and am completely committed to assisting its victims and preventing any recurrence of these crimes.

“I ask you to join me in prayer for all those who have been wounded by sexual misconduct on the part of the clergy.”

The paper adds that Sirba also directed victims of clergy sexual abuse to contact the diocese, at 2830 E. Fourth St., Duluth, MN 55812, or by phone at (218) 724-9111, as well as contacting civil authorities to report a crime. No formal criminal charges in connection with the accusation against Kelleher have yet been initiated.

Kelleher was profiled in the News Tribune in 2000 while serving as pastor at St. Patrick in Hinckley and St. Joseph in Beroun.

He told the paper that he came to the Duluth diocese at the invitation of the then-bishop, because at the time Kelleher was in the seminary ‘there was an abundance of priests in Ireland and a shortage of priests in Minnesota’.

Kelleher said at the time that he visited and offered Mass to inmates at the federal prison in Sandstone once a week, and was active in the church’s Marriage Encounter program.

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