Child of priest fights for recognition

FIGHT CONTINUES: Linda Kelly-Lawless (pictured right) and her father Joseph Kelly (pictured left) side by side while Linda was younger.

Charlotte Varcoe

THE fight to be recognised as a child of a priest continues for Mount Gambier/Berrin woman Linda Kelly-Lawless.

Ms Kelly-Lawless spoke to The Border Watch earlier this year, detailing her journey in being recognised as Melbourne priest Father Joseph Kelly’s biological daughter.

Born on June 5, 1962, it was not until she was eight-years-old when she realised the father she grew up with was not her biological father.

Father Joseph Kelly died in 1989 and was found to be the biological father of Ms Kelly-Lawless after she did a DNA test in 2018.

Since that time, she has been fighting to be recognised as what is now known as “the hidden children” of the Catholic Church.

Ms Kelly-Lawless recently produced a legal DNA test with the American company Parabon – which was used by the FBI and Queensland Police Service – and gave the documents to the Melbourne Catholic Church.

Archbishop Comensoli was presented the documents and clearly stated that while he personally believed Ms Kelly-Lawless was the daughter of Joseph, any formal recognition would have to come from the state rather than the Church.

“I did the legal DNA testing and what it is it is a genetic DNA,” Ms Kelly-Lawless said.

“There is a report which was done and presented alongside all the other evidence such as statutory declarations and more but he wants me to exhume him [Joseph Kelly].”

The DNA test led Ms Kelly-Lawless to being 99 per cent related to the Kelly family and 99 per cent related to the Ferguson family.

“They only have one child and that child is Joseph Kelly as predicted and as my aunt, family and friends said,” she said.

“I will proceed further with this.”

Ms Kelly-Lawless said she understood the DNA test had to be presented to the courts and she had explained to the archbishop she did not want legal acknowledgement and was a separate matter but wanted acknowledgement from the Church on the grounds of kindness and compassion and to recognise her as a child of the Catholic Church.

“My original birth certificate is not a legal birth certificate,” she said.

“It does not have a family name on it and that is what is to be corrected.”

She said she needed a court order to put her biological father on her birth certificate and would continue to try and claim her identity back.

“I am sick of being illegitimate and I will keep proceeding with the Church and supporting children of priests and their mothers,” Ms Kelly-Lawless said.

“When it came to the Catholic Church side of it I was in disbelief they would push me this far for a letter of acknowledgement.

“It was a simple request, I wanted in writing that Joseph was my father and I didn’t think it would be too much to ask.”

She said children of priests were not recognised with both children and their mothers “traumatised and hidden”.

“I am not backing down and I will not go away,” she said.

In a statement provided by the Archdiocese, he said earlier this year it was confirmed with Ms Kelly-Lawless that he did not have the authority to request an exhumation of Joseph.

“If it is to be sought, it would need to come from Linda herself,” the statement said.

“I have stated that I would be prepared to support such an application from Linda should she so choose.”

The statement also read there was “no denying” the historical fact that priests have fathered children.

“Sadly, this was something that was not talked about or acknowledged honestly and justly within the Church in the past,” he said.

“The Church now steps forward in finding a way to acknowledge children who have priests as their father, and to ensure these men take up their responsibilities towards their children.”

However, in a document obtained by The Border Watch, Archbishop Comensoli said he accepted Ms Kelly-Lawless was seeking “absolute acknowledgement” from the Church as to her fathers identity.

The letter, signed by the Archbishop, said although he believed Joseph to be her father, he could not “state categorically” that was true.

“There is simply not the level of information to do so…you have provided significant evidence of a shared heritage but not directly to a singular person,” the letter read.

“There may be only one pathway to determine this…I hope you are able to see I am not dismissing what you have shared in any way, but wish to honour the right understanding for all concerned.”

Ms Kelly-Lawless confirmed she would continue not only the fight to be recognised as a child of a priest but also continue helping other children of priests find their true heritage.