Judge to Decide If Records in Sex Abuse Case Will Remain Sealed

By Jennie Rodriguez-Moore
The Record
November 22, 2011

Michael Kelly

STOCKTON - Defense attorneys representing a popular Lockeford priest facing allegations of child molestation are attempting to permanently seal civil court records that expose details of the parties' personal lives.

The civil lawsuit alleges that St. Joachim Church's Rev. Michael Kelly sexually molested a boy when he was between the ages of 7 and 11 during the 1980s in Stockton. The suit also names the bishop of the Diocese of Stockton as a defendant.

Defense lawyers are seeking to permanently seal court arguments from a judge's decision not to dismiss the case.

Thomas Beatty, who is representing Kelly, said both parties agreed in writing to keep the records confidential, citing privacy concerns.

On Monday, attorneys for the man accusing Kelly argued that the public has a right to those records for two reasons: to explain the judge's ruling to move forward with a trial, and because the allegations are severe enough that public interest outweighs privacy.

"We believe father Kelly should not be in ministry," said Vince Finaldi, who represents the plaintiff. "Our argument is the documents should be made public for the protection of the public."

But Beatty said the plaintiff is asking only for Kelly's private life to be disclosed, not the plaintiff 's.

"The reason they are sealed was originally at plaintiff's request," Beatty said. "And I don't expect them to change the rules right before the trial."

According to the man suing Kelly, identified in court papers as John TZ Doe, he reported the abuse after recalling repressed memories from his childhood.

Now a 37-year-old member of the U.S. military, he said the assaults happened in the mid- and late 1980s at Cathedral of the Annunciation. Court papers say he was an altar boy and a student at a school operated by the church.

His attorneys say that although the man reported the memories to police, a criminal complaint was never filed because the time that had passed exceeded the statue of limitations.

Kelly was put on administrative leave for six months after the sex abuse claims first surfaced, but the diocese reported it found no evidence against Kelly and reinstated him in March 2008.

More recently, a second person, a 21-year-old man, has come forward alleging he also was sexually molested by Kelly between 2000 and 2002. He was an altar boy at St. Andrew's Church in San Andreas, where Kelly also has served. That case is under investigation by the Calaveras County Sheriff's office.

Kelly, who is supported by many of his parishioners at St. Andrew's, strongly maintains his innocence in both cases and continues his ministry with the Diocese of Stockton. He declined to comment Monday, redirecting inquiries to his attorney.

"Father Kelly wants to put this matter behind him," Beatty said. "We've waited four years to clear his name once and for all."

Regardless of the outcome, details in the sealed documents should be made public, said Melanie Sakoda, director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

The organization has been following the case.

"I think that information should be available to the people, in part, because this priest is still in ministry and he is working with children," Sakoda said.

Sakoda said if there are other victims, she hopes they will come forward.

Sakoda said the organization also would like to see Kelly removed from ministry while he is under investigation in the second case.

Kelly, a native of Ireland, moved to Stockton in 1973 after being ordained. He has ministered at various local churches, including Cathedral of Annunciation in Stockton and St. Andrew's Church in San Andreas. He has served at St. Joachim in Lockeford since 2004.

Kelly isn't the first priest to be scrutinized for child molestation at the Diocese of Stockton. Former priest Oliver O'Grady was convicted in 1994 for sexually abusing two boys. The diocese spent millions settling legal battles.

Kelly's civil trial is scheduled to begin in February. San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt said he needs a couple of weeks to review attorney arguments before deciding whether to lift the seal on court records.


Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.