Priest Will Fight Lawsuit

By Lacey Peterson
The Union Democrat
April 4, 2008

Rev. Michael Kelly plans to fight a lawsuit filed against him and the Diocese of Stockton, which alleges sexual abuse to a child in the 1980s.

"I absolutely, adamantly and vehemently deny ... allegations," Kelly said in a telephone interview.

The Newport Beach law office of John Manly filed a lawsuit in San Joaquin County March 28 against an unnamed Catholic diocese, parish, school and priest on allegations of sexual abuse and negligence.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount of money for damages on behalf of an unnamed plaintiff.

Manly's associate, Vince Finaldi confirmed the suit is against the Diocese of Stockton, Cathedral of the Annunciation, and Father Michael Kelly.

In lawsuits in childhood sexual abuse cases where the victim is over 26-years-old the defendants have to be first named as Doe, Finaldi said.

The court has to grant permission to serve the papers to the diocese, which should be done soon, Finaldi said.

The suit comes two weeks after Bishop Stephen Blaire released a statement that Kelly, who had been removed from his duties since September 2007, returned March 14 to active priestly ministry.

The statement said the diocese contracted a private investigator who did not find evidence of sexual abuse on the part of Kelly.

Sister Terry Davis, diocese director of communications, declined to comment on the lawsuit as no papers have been served yet. She did however say that the diocese conducted an impartial investigation into the allegations.

"Having Stephen Blaire determine whether someone is a sex offender is like having Saddam Hussein determine if someone is a human rights abuser," Manly said.

The statement also says the diocese made "numerous attempts" to contact the claimant, but that his attorney's said he did not want to talk to the bishop.

However, the victim's attorneys say different.

"They never contacted us," Finaldi said. "We've been litigating with them for 10 years. They have our phone number, probably on speed dial."

What kind of investigation is complete without talking to the victim or his family? Finaldi asked.

"Where are the notes? Let us see the investigation," Finaldi said.

"The police don't investigate things in public," diocese attorney Paul Balestracci said. "Transparency sounds great but you can't legitimately investigate something in public."

"They're saying trust us they're fine, which with their reputation is crazy," Manly said.

The claimant is a 33-year-old man who is married with children and is on active duty in the military.

The lawsuit filed lists the victim as a former altar boy, who was allegedly sodomized between the ages of 7 and 11. The abuse supposedly happened while Kelly was babysitting the victim.

"Why was he babysitting kids? That's weird," Manly said. "It's (priests babysitting) against the rules. It was against the rules ... then and now."

The victim allegedly repressed the memories of the abuse and they surfaced in, or around, the spring of 2006, the suit said.

The suit also stated the diocese knew, or should have known, Kelly's supposed past conduct of a sexual nature with minors.

The dioceses' attorney rebuffed this claim.

"They say that in every lawsuit," Balestracci said. He called it "stock language," common to lawsuits of this kind.

A lawsuit of this type usually takes two years, Finaldi said. It could be shorter or longer, depending on many factors.

"I intend with every fiber of my being, even if it takes my very last breath, to fight these vicious lies," Kelly said.

Kelly was a pastor of St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Sonora from 1987 to 1997 and now is the pastor at St. Joachim in Lockeford.


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