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STANLY COUNTY, NC (WBTV) -
Father Michael Joseph Kelleher turned 86-years-old last week. It's a milestone for anyone, but for Kelleher age also became a complication in his criminal case.
Tuesday afternoon, assistant district attorney Dawn Layton agreed to dismiss the charge against Kelleher of indecent liberties with a minor.
It's a dismissal that comes four years after the clergyman's arrest.
A forensic psychiatrist with the Department of Health and Human Services says Kelleher is "incapable to proceed." A forensic evaluation is one tool that can be used to show the court evidence relating to someone competency or ability.
Letters in Kelleher's criminal file from several doctors say he suffers from dementia, paranoia, and has become increasingly frail with a heart condition.
State law requires a defendant to be able to participate in his case. If the defendant is unable by means of some incapacity, then the case must be dismissed.
Kelleher was charged in 2010 with indecent liberties with a minor. A man came forward to report Kelleher molested him as an altar boy during Kelleher's time at Our Lady of the Annunciation in Albemarle in the 1970s.
Court documents from Stanly County show Kelleher admitted touching the boy while being interviewed by a police sergeant.
At the same time, Kelleher also faced similar allegations in Charlotte based on his time at Our Lady of the Assumption in the 1970s. Those allegations were investigated by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, but authorities never brought charges.
At the time the Stanly County charge against Kelleher surfaced, the Diocese of Charlotte put the priest on administrative leave. He was serving as a chaplain at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School in Winston-Salem.
At least one victims' rights group was concerned the case would be dismissed. David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement:
"Even though he confessed to molesting a child four years ago, we fear that criminal child sex abuse charges against Fr. Michael Joseph Kelleher will be dropped today by Stanly County prosecutor Reece Saunders who, we believe, has some tough questions to answer about why he let this case linger for four years."
Neither Kelleher, nor the victim, attended court Tuesday. The victim did, however, give a statement to WBTV.
"I remember quite vividly, shortly before choosing to press charges, agonizing over the fact that the many, many people who cared about Kelleher would be heartbroken and devastated: couples he married, parents whose babies he baptized, troubled souls who he'd counseled, those whose loved ones he buried," said the victim, whose name WBTV is choosing not to release.
He added, "In the end, I stand alone, devastated by recent court decisions preventing me from presenting indisputable facts—making my case—so as to allow justice to prevail."