Priest Faces Suit over Alleged Molestation of Sunland Girl, 11

By Aaron Curtiss
Los Angeles Times
September 23, 1992

A 72-year-old Jesuit priest who fled the country to avoid trial on child molestation charges has been sued by the parents of an 11-year-old Sunland girl he hugged and kissed during a counseling session last year. Father Patrick Kelly, a visiting priest at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Tujunga, fled to his native Ireland in December 1991, after the girl told her parents that he repeatedly kissed and fondled her at her home.

Kelly pleaded no contest -- legally equivalent to a guilty plea for criminal court purposes -- in April to a single misdemeanor charge of sexual battery and was sentenced to three years probation. His attorney said the priest entered the plea to spare the child from testifying. Kelly remains in Ireland.

The civil suit, filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, accuses Kelly of assault and battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It contends Kelly "repeatedly assaulted" the girl and that she was "held against her will and without her consent and forced to submit to sexual molestations and sexual acts."

The suit also names the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, accusing its officials of negligence in hiring and supervision. It contends that the girl's family complained about Kelly's behavior, but that the church and archdiocese "refused to acknowledge" the parents' concerns.

Donald H. Steier, the attorney who represents Kelly and the Los Angeles Archdiocese, could not be reached for comment.

According to prosecutors, Kelly went to the home of parishioners in Sunland on Sept. 26, 1991, at the request of the girl's mother. She had asked that the child be counseled over a dispute the girl was having with a neighbor, prosecutors said.

Once alone in the family living room, prosecutors said, Kelly pulled the girl onto his lap and began kissing and fondling her. Kelly's attorney has characterized the incident as a misunderstanding, aggravated by differences between the ways in which harmless affection is displayed in the United States and Ireland. The suit seeks unspecified general, medical and punitive damages.


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