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Religious convictions are a poor excuse for criminal negligence
Kevin Kelly must be held accountable for the death of his daughter.

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Date published: 7/21/2002


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PRINCE WILLIAM Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert did the right thing, of course, when he filed charges against the father who on a hot day accidentally left his daughter to die in the family van.

To bring you up to date, Kevin Kelly of Manassas was put in charge of 12 of his 13 kids early last month while his wife and eldest child were on a trip to Ireland.

After returning from errands one day, everyone piled out of the van and moved on to new things--everyone except 21-month-old Frances, who was left strapped in her safety seat in the closed van.

Seven hours later neighbors noticed the child in the car and brought the situation to the family's attention. Frances was dead.

Twelve people, a dad and 11 kids, some of them teenagers, failed to notice that Frances was not around. Not to play. Not to eat. Not for a diaper change. Not for a nap. Just not around.

The ensuing investigation revealed that Kevin Kelly had lost track of his kids before: Until he was called on the phone, he hadn't realized he left a 4-year-old at a video store. More recently, Frances herself had been found wandering in the middle of the street, unattended.

The Kellys are good Catholics, their supporters say. Maybe. Good parents? I think most people would find that debatable.

Good parents these days don't have 13 kids. Maybe on a 19th-century farm it made sense, where kids could do the work more cheaply than farmhands. But even the most devoutly religious of us ought to understand that in today's world, family does not mean brood. It's not cute, or funny, or right. It's stupid and irresponsible.

Reports indicate that the responsibilities the family's size imposed on its members have been taking a heavy toll on their mental health.

There is a reason that Virginia has rules and sets forth licensing requirements governing the number of children allowed at a family-operated day-care facility, which is what the Kelly home might as well be. That's because there is a limit to the number of children one adult can be reasonably expected to keep track of.

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