Priest Hit with New Abuse Allegation

By Zachary K. Johnson
The Record
September 29, 2011

Michael Kelly, seen in 2005, denies the claims.

Tim Lennon, left, and Joelle Casteix of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests hold a news conference Wednesday in front of the Diocese of Stockton Pastoral Center. They say they will protest Sunday at St. Joachim Church.

STOCKTON - A popular Lockeford priest, already embroiled in a civil lawsuit in which he is accused of molesting a boy more than 20 years ago, is facing another allegation of abuse.

The new allegation accuses the Rev. Michael Kelly of abusing a second child about a decade ago at a parish in Calaveras County, according to the attorney representing the first accuser in the civil case, which is approaching trial in San Joaquin County Superior Court.

There have been no criminal charges filed in either case, and Kelly strongly denies any wrongdoing.

"This is absolutely and completely and totally false," Kelly said Wednesday, between fielding some of the calls he said had been flooding his phone that morning at Saint Joachim Church, where he has been pastor since 2004. Most callers were from parishioners offering their support, he said.

Kelly was ordained a priest and moved to Stockton from his native Ireland in 1973. He was also a priest at the Cathedral of Annunciation in Stockton.

According to an allegation that surfaced in 2006, he was serving at the Stockton church during the 1980s, when he is accused of abusing a boy between the ages of 7 and 11. The allegations came after the victim recalled repressed memories of abuse well into adulthood, according to a lawsuit.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton put Kelly on administrative leave for six months while it conducted an investigation. The diocese reported it found no evidence of abuse and reinstated Kelly to his position at Saint Joachim in March 2008.

The trial for the civil case is set to begin in November. There was no criminal case, because the statute of limitations had expired, said John Manly, the Southern California attorney representing the plaintiff in the civil case.

Manly brought forth the most recent allegations, made by a now-21-year-old man who said he was abused between 2000 and 2002, starting when he was 10 years old. At the time, the boy was an altar server at St. Andrew Church in San Andreas, he said.

The San Andreas church was also one of the parishes in the diocese Oliver O'Grady served. The notorious former priest has cost the diocese millions of dollars in legal settlements and was convicted of criminal charges in 1994 for molesting two boys. O'Grady was deported to his native Ireland. He was the subject of the 2006 documentary "Deliver Us From Evil."

When the first allegation against Kelly surfaced, church officials canvassed the diocese, asking all churchgoers to come forward with any information about misconduct from Kelly. "And no one came forward," said Albert Ellis, a Stockton attorney representing Kelly. Ellis called the timing of the latest allegation suspicious. "And now, after four years of contentious litigation, when the case is on the eve of going to trial: lo and behold. ..."

Bishop Stephen Blaire released a statement Tuesday, saying the diocese first learned of the latest accusation against Kelly on Monday in a letter from an attorney. The diocese forwarded the letter to the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department and would continue to cooperate with law enforcement, the statement continued.

Sheriff Gary Kuntz said he has two detectives working on the case, but it is too early to say whether it is a valid accusation.

Outside of the downtown Stockton Diocese offices Wednesday, two representatives from SNAP - the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests - held a news conference. They said they had been abused by priests as children, and they wore photographs around their necks of themselves at the age they were abused.

They urged the diocese to put Kelly on leave while the investigation continues. "We are outraged," said Joelle Casteix, SNAP's Western regional director. "(Bishop Blaire) refuses to do the simple, safest and cheapest thing, which is to put Michael Kelly on paid administrative leave."

In Lockeford, the original accusation has not dampened support for Kelly, said Gary Gordon, a member of both the St. Joachim parish council and the Lockeford Community Services board of directors. He called both accusations strange and described Kelly as an "outstanding individual" who has worked to help young people.

"I certainly back him all the way, and I believe our whole parish does," Gordon said.


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