Dozens attend rally to support priest accused of sexually abusing teen boy

Joseph Kelleher (Photo courtesy of the Albemarled Police Department)
Joseph Kelleher (Photo courtesy of the Albemarled Police Department)

By Steve Crump - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Supporters in Charlotte and Winston-Salem held a rally Wednesday night for a priest accused of sexual abuse.

They are demanding justice for Father Joseph Kelleher who surrendered to police in Albemarle last week.

A man claims that Kelleher molested him at a church in Albemarle in 1977.  At the time, the victim was just 14-years-old.

Many of those who know and grew up with the priest just don't believe the allegations, but they are rallying in a high-tech way.

In less than a week, more than 800 followers have signed up to be a part of the "Friends of Justice for Father Kelleher" Facebook page and they are finding strength in numbers.

Some of those who put their words on-line turned out to share their support in person Wednesday night at Charlotte's Freedom Park.

Jennifer Menzel Cramer said showing support means returning a favor to the former parish priest.

She's the driving force behind the web page and bringing people together.

"He's always been there for us, and we need to be there for him," Cramer said.

About 30 people lit candles and signed cards at that gathering Wednesday night.

Andy Harlee spoke to Kelleher earlier in day.

"He's not able to go to mass," Harlee said.  "He's not able to go to Bishop McGinnis the high school so he's at home He's miserable."

Many say he would find comfort in knowing that former parishioners and even altar boys are rallying behind him including Michael Peetz.

"He was always there for you, if you needed something regardless of what kind of problem you had to deal with no matter how serious it is, you could always feel comfortable going to him for advice," Peetz said.

Being there for Kelleher is a point many wanted to make, both here and in cyberspace.

"It's not a battle just on him,"  Harlee said.  "It's a battle on all of us, and we're there with him to fight it together."

Kelleher lives in Kernersville near Winston Salem, and speakers at the rally said he is not allowed to have contact with current students at the school where he regularly said mass.

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