HR or Criminal Issue? Moving Abusive Priests Between Parishes

With so many clergy abuse scandals in the news these days, finding new ways to cover the stories may become challenging. Here’s one angle that might help.

While the St Paul Archdiocese has been busy denying covering for abusive priests within their ranks, the Duluth Diocese has gotten around to admitting that a priest within their ranks, Rev. Cornelius Kelleher, sexually abused a female minor in Chisholm between 1975 – 1986.

The article mentions that he served the following parishes before retiring:

St. James, Duluth, MN
St. Joseph, Crosby, MN
Holy Family, Eveleth, MN
St. Mary, Cook, MN
St. Bridget, Greaney, MN
St. Benedict, Duluth, MN
St. Joseph, Gnesen, MN
St. Joseph, Lakewood, MN
St. Joseph, Chisholm, MN
St. Andrew, Brainerd, MN
St. Patrick, Hinckley, MN
St. Joseph, Beroun, MN

It doesn’t mention those are in chronological order. But, it seem clear that this priest was moved around a significant number of times over vast distances during his career. I mapped the locations to get a better feel for this:

Parishes Rev. Cornelius Kelleher Served

Visualizations like this, together with timelines of which parishes the abusive priest served, where he was before, and where he went next, might help illustrate how abusive priests were reassigned rather than charged with crimes. The Duluth News Tribune report mentions that Kelleher worked in Hinkley and Beroun in 2000. But, it’s not clear from the report if Kelleher was reassigned 120 miles to the south after his time abusing a female minor in Chisholm, or if he had other stops along the way.

It would also be interesting if a reporter was able to get their hands on the employment history of an entire archdiocese over a generation, then screen for the most moved priests. For example, were there priests that started out in large parishes who ended up being bounced around through small towns? Why did that happen? Perhaps you’d stumble across some “fixer” priests who’s job it is to clean up after priest scandals? If so, you could look up who they followed and start asking questions.

I think the data would reveal in even greater detail that there are systemic problems with how abusive priests are dealt with by church leaders. When the #2 guy at the St Paul archdiocese abruptly retires, you know things are a mess. But, we don’t truly understand the scope of the coverups at this point.

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