Questions Raised in Accusations against Former Priest

By Lacey Peterson
Union Democrat
October 31, 2007

Allies of Father Michael Kelly, a former Sonora pastor accused of sexual abuse, have formed an organization to help raise funds for his legal defense.

"It's just preposterous that he would be accused of it," said Greg Dumas, a former longtime member of Sonora's St. Patrick's Church, where Kelly was pastor from 1987 to 1997.

Dumas is among several hundred of present and former parishioners who have banded together to form Friends of Father Kelly.

The alleged victim, a 33-year-old man now in the U.S. military, claims he was sexually abused by Kelly in his parents' former home in Stockton between 1984 and 1986. The victim would have been 10 to 12 years old at the time.

Dumas plans to donate to the legal defense fund and views the allegation as a way for the accuser to get money. Dumas is staunch in his belief of Kelly's innocence.

The Diocese of Stockton has been tight-lipped about the complaint against Kelly. Sister Terry Davis, a spokeswoman, would say only that the diocese is investigating the claim as it would with "any such accusation."

The diocese put Kelly on administrative leave until the matter is resolved and he has been advised to find his own counsel.

Friends of Father Kelly said in a letter that the account set up for his legal fees will be administered by a committee of parishioners from St. Joachim Catholic Church in Lockeford, where he ministered before the claim.

Some Sonora-area residents have joined the effort and stand by Kelly 100 percent. With their fond memories of him and continued contact over the years, sexual misconduct on his behalf is hard to for them to believe.

"I always felt that he was truly a holy person," said Pat Dean, a longtime member of St. Patrick's Catholic Church. "When I stepped out of Mass on Sundays, I had a lift that was with me all week."

Dean taught at Sonora High School for many years and was always impressed when, even after moving away, Kelly would attend high school graduations of children he had known through both his involvement in youth soccer and from the church.

"My husband and I are totally appalled," she said. "There's some things I can believe, but this is unbelievable ... He has my fervent prayers.

"What he (Kelly) has done for the community, what he has done to bring families together — pedophiles separate people," Dumas added. "Everything he did was to promote families being together, families that he felt a part of."

Dumas joined St. Patrick's in 1980 and served as a lector for many years and recalls the countless dinners Kelly shared at his home with the Dumas' children.

He says his children always looked forward to Kelly's visits and pointed out that if something untoward had occurred, the children would have pulled away. Dumas also feels if the claim had any legitimacy people would be stepping forward, or "coming out of the woodwork."

But John Manly of Newport Beach, attorney for the victim, contends Bishop Stephen Blaire has additional information to support the allegation.

Bishop Blaire did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Manly also denies rumors that his firm is sending investigators to Sonora to find more victims.

"We're doing our investigation but I'm not sending anyone up on a victim hunt. I have independent witnesses that have the information," Manly said.

Manly said Kelly's attorney, Albert Ellis of Stockton, is spreading disinformation and lies that suggest that his client is trying to get easy money. "For people to say that it's easy money is judgmental and at best premature," Manly said.

"In a way, Father Kelly's lawyer is doing us a favor, because all of his lies and disinformation have people coming out of the woodwork," he said.

According to Ellis, this is the first claim against Father Kelly who has never been questioned by law enforcement or investigated for other allegations. Ellis said that he could not speak for the diocese or the bishop, but that in this day and age if there were evidence to support any claims made against Kelly, he would not still be a priest.

"If somebody has something, they should file a claim and air it through the court system instead of trying him through the press," Ellis said.

"He's a priest. All he has is his reputation and his has been impeccable. I'm 100 percent convinced of his innocence," Dumas said.

"I feel very bad for his (Kelly's) parishioners. It's very hard to believe. Perpetrators are rarely people that aren't likable ... I would just ask everyone to reserve judgment on these allegations until the truth comes out," Manly said.

Kelly is now living with friends and no legal claims against him have been filed.

Contact Lacey Peterson at 588-4525 or lpeterson@


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