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Worcester DA details progress in clergy sex-abuse cases

WORCESTER -- District Attorney John Conte released a report on his investigation of clergy sex abuse, saying that he wanted to encourage victims to come forward and that his office is aggressively pursuing cases.

According to the report, 17 clerics in the Worcester diocese have been charged with criminal sexual abuse since 1985, seven because of the investigation, which began in February 2002. The seven include Robert E. Kelley, 61, of Worcester, who was sentenced in October to five to seven years in state prison after pleading guilty to child rape.

One of the seven was found not guilty, but the cases of five others are pending. Eight others were not criminally charged but were removed from ministry, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported yesterday.

Of 113 statements taken to date, 35 resulted in charges and 58 were barred by the 15-year statute of limitations, according to the report, released Friday.

The other statements did not point to criminal conduct, required more investigation, were outside Conte's jurisdiction, or accused priests who have since died.

Conte said his investigation is unusual because it obtained old records and used grand jury subpoenas to prosecute clergy, rather than responding to reports from alleged victims. He said some victims came forward after the subpoenas, but most had to be found by State Police detectives.

"It's very time consuming to track things and reconstruct things going back 25 or 30 years," Conte said. "We started in March or April of [2002] with the grand jury, and will continue to use it if we have to, but we have most of the records that are available."

A chart tracking abuse reports in Central Massachusetts since 1950 shows a dramatic increase in abuse reports between 1972 and 1984, with the most in 1979, when 56 offenses were alleged.

The allegations sharply fell after 1989, which Conte attributed to aggressive prosecutions in Massachusetts of two high-profile priests accused of abuse, including Kelley and the Rev. Joseph A. Fredette. Kelley worked at St. Cecilia's Parish in Leominster and Sacred Heart Parish in Gardner. Fredette was once a priest at a home for wayward boys in Worcester.

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