Abuse Lawsuit Targets Priest

By Sue Nowicki
Modesto Bee
April 1, 2008

The Southern California law office of John C. Manly filed a lawsuit in San Joaquin County on Friday against an unnamed Catholic diocese, parish, school and priest on charges of childhood sexual abuse. The lawsuit is seeking an unspecified amount of money for actual and punitive damages on behalf of an unnamed plaintiff.

"I'll confirm on the record that it's against the (Stockton Diocese) and Father (Michael) Kelly," Manly said in a phone interview Monday.

The Rev. Michael Kelly

"As of this moment, the diocese has not been served with any papers, so we have no comment," said Stockton Diocese spokeswoman Sister Terry Davis.

Diocese attorney Paul Balestracci said the lack of names is not unusual.

"In lawsuits in childhood sexual abuse cases where the plaintiff is over 26 years old, the defendants have to initially be named as Doe," he said. "The plaintiff has to go through certain steps (before defendants are named). I don't know how long it will take. We're just interested in the truth."

Kelly's attorney, Thomas Beatty, said he expects the defendants' names to be added and responses to be filed in the next 60 to 90 days. The lawsuit came two weeks after the 58-year-old priest was reinstated by the diocese after a monthslong investigation into the sexual abuse allegations. He was on administrative leave during the probe.

"I think the lawsuit was speeded up and filed as a direct consequence of the investigation that fully exonerated Father Kelly," Beatty said. "He was fully investigated by the bishop after the claim that came in six or seven months ago. We'd heard nothing from the plaintiff. In fact, the plaintiff's attorney refused to let us talk with the person, who claimed to have regained his memory.

"Naturally, (Kelly is) upset. It's so hard to deal with a situation that's patently false."

But Manly said the diocese "never asked me" about talking with the plaintiff. "If they had, why would I want the plaintiff to talk with them? My experience has been they are really not interested in finding the truth and protecting their victims."

The lawsuit says the plaintiff, confirmed by Manly to be a male, was born May 29, 1974, and is on active duty in the U.S. armed forces.

Although Manly won't release many specifics, he said, "I would describe him as a young father, an officer in the military, someone that you'd be proud to have live next door to you. Someone who is intelligent, ethical, intellectual, but terribly injured (because of the alleged abuse).

"I've interviewed him and met with him at length. I don't file cases where in my heart I don't believe in my client. My prediction is this case will go to trial."

The lawsuit says the abuse happened "from about 1982 through 1985," when the plaintiff was a student at a parochial school. The priest, called DOE 4, is said to have befriended the family to the extent of baby-sitting the plaintiff, and to have sexually harassed him by "rubbing plaintiff on his back, shoulders, chest and stomach; tickling plaintiff in a sexual manner; talking with plaintiff about sexual matters; ... walking around naked in front of plaintiff; ... giving plaintiff a bath; ... and hugging plaintiff in a sexual manner," as well as talking to the plaintiff about their genitals. Sexual abuse and molestation also occurred, the lawsuit claims.

Although the statute of limitations has expired on such lawsuits, Manly said, this case is an exception because of the plaintiff's repressed memories of the abuse, which, he said, were recalled in the spring of 2006. He said it also is an exception under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, which the lawsuit says means military service can't be counted against a person bringing actions to court or other agencies.

Manly, who said Catholic sexual abuse cases make up about 60 percent of his caseload, said he couldn't put a price on the damages sought. "How do you put a number on your first sexual experience (as) a little boy with a priest?" he asked.

That kind of comment doesn't sit well with the other side.

"The charges are vigorously denied," said Kelly's attorney, Beatty. "There was a complete, thorough, expensive investigation by outside parties for the diocese. There's just no truth to these allegations."

Kelly, an Irish native, joined the Stockton Diocese in 1973. Among other duties, he served as an associate priest at Our Lady of Fatima in Modesto from 1973-79, an associate at St. Bernard's in Tracy from 1979-1984, an associate at the Cathedral of Annunciation in Stockton from 1984-1987, pastor at St. Patrick's in Sonora from 1987-1997, parochial vicar at St. Jude's in Ceres from 2003-04, and pastor at St. Joachim in Lockeford from 2004 to the present.

Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or


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