Former Sonora Priest Denies Allegations of Molestation

By Lacey Peterson
Union Democrat
October 16, 2007

A former Sonora priest, placed on administrative leave by the Stockton Diocese following allegations he molested a former parishioner, defended himself in a letter to diocese members, "categorically, unequivocally, and emphatically" denying the claim.

In his letter to "friends, parishioners and longtime acquaintances," Father Michael M. Kelly asserts his innocence and relates "deep sadness and anger" that he was even sending out a letter to inform people of the allegations set against him.

"I am totally and completely innocent of this accusation ... and I plan to defend my ministry and my honor," Kelly's letter said.

Father Kelly, now with a parish in Lockeford, was pastor at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Sonora from 1987 to 1997.

Kelly's statement coincided with diocese Bishop Stephen Blaire's announcement that Kelly would be put on leave, delivered Sunday to parishioners at St. Patrick's, among the diocese's 33 parishes and 12 missions.

Kelly is accused of sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy at the boy's parents' home in Stockton between 1984 and 1986. The accusation surfaced after the alleged victim had a "recovered memory."

Kelly's attorney, Albert M. Ellis, of Stockton, said the accusation is "highly suspect."

The statute of limitations for both criminal and civil suits has expired, Ellis said. However, there is a "repressed memory" clause that allows a victim to file a suit if an event triggers the repressed event.

"We understand they have an attorney, but they haven't issued a statement or listed any demands," Ellis said.

According to Ellis, the alleged victim's father made a complaint to a Los Angeles church, which forwarded the claim to the Stockton Diocese. The diocese alerted the Stockton Police Department, which has opened an investigation.

"It's a pretty thin and narrow accusation," Ellis said. "From our perspective, we don't think there is a claim."

Kelly volunteered to take a polygraph examination and passed the test by "one of the foremost examiners in the state," Ellis said.

The polygraph test would not be admissible in court, but Ellis and Kelly believe it would be admissible from an administrative standpoint to get Kelly back to work.

"We think this is in many ways an ambush situation because my client has been removed from what he does for a living without any other evidence to support the claim," Ellis said. "We look forward to clearing Father Kelly's name."

Kelly, 56, a native of Dublin, grew up in Tipperary in southern Ireland. While he was attending an Irish seminary, he agreed to move to Stockton. He was ordained June 9, 1973.

His initial assignment with the Stockton Diocese was at Our Lady of Fatima in Modesto. He then moved to St. Bernard's in Tracy and, in 1984, went to the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton.

Kelly, pastor of St. Joachim Church in Lockeford for the past three years, served at St. Patrick's in Sonora between July 1987 and March 1997. The present pastor, Father Bill Kraft, said Kelly was an "extremely popular, well-liked pastor."

While at St. Patrick's, Kelly refereed for soccer leagues in Tuolumne County.

In 1991, he was nominated as Citizen of the Year by the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce and was one of three finalists.


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