Philipsburg priest on leave after allegations of sexual misconduct

A Philipsburg priest will not be celebrating Mass or performing other duties after being placed on leave.

In a statement Friday, Altoona-Johnstown Diocese Bishop Mark Bartchak announced that the Rev. Robert Kelly was “on leave from active ministry” because of allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors dating back more than 30 years.

Kelly is the pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philipsburg and director of the diocesan office of the Propagation of the Faith. He has been in Philipsburg since 2001. Kelly, 66, became a priest in 1974. According to the diocese, he has “served assignments at various parishes throughout the diocese.”

In 2003, Kelly was accused of molesting an altar boy at Our Lady of Victory in State College before his transfer to Philipsburg.

According to his accuser at that time, Kelly sexually abused him numerous times between 1974 and 1977, while he was 12 to 14 years old.

“The sexual molestation I experienced at the hands of Father Kelly left me feeling betrayed and ashamed. For, as painful as it was, the most devastating part of my encounters with Father Kelly was not the violation of my body, but the damage to my soul,” that accuser said.

“While on leave, Father Kelly will not be permitted to function as a priest, and he will reside at a place where he has no contact with children,” the diocese’s release stated.

It is not known if the 2003 allegations are linked to Kelly’s removal.

“Children are a precious gift from God and we must always take the necessary steps to ensure their protection in the Catholic Church,” Bartchak said. “I pray for the alleged victims in this case and for all children who have suffered sexual abuse in our society. May the Lord grant them healing, comfort and peace.”

Bartchak also pledged his “continued prayers and support” to the parish during “difficult days.”

He appointed Father John Gibbons, parochial vicar of St. John the Evangelist parish in Bellefonte and St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Spring Mills to be the temporary administrator at Sts. Peter and Paul.

A letter from Bartchak will be read at all the Philipsburg Masses over the weekend.