Former Modesto Priest Finally Gets Day in Court
By Sue Nowicki
January 6, 2012
|The Modesto Bee - Father Michael Kelly|
The Rev. Michael Kelly of the Stockton Diocese will finally get his day in court more than four years after a lawsuit was filed, alleging that he abused a 10-year-old Stockton boy in the mid-1980s.
And in an unrelated case, a former Stockton Diocese priest serving in the Archdiocese of San Francisco has been removed from all priestly duties after he followed a 17-year-old boy into a store dressing room last year. The Rev. William Myers can no longer call himself a priest, celebrate Mass or hear confessions, said the archdiocese's spokesman, George Wesolek.
Kelly's attorney is upbeat about the upcoming trial, which begins Feb. 14 in San Joaquin County. It has been postponed several times, including the most recent date in November. That judge recused himself over a possible conflict of interest.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to put this to rest once and for all," said Thomas Beatty. "Father Kelly is innocent. He's passed lie detectors. There's been a lengthy investigation (by police and the diocese). After he returned from his six-month leave (during the investigation), he received a standing ovation. I have no doubt the evidence will prove his innocence."
Kelly, pastor of St. Joachim Catholic Parish in Lockeford, is a native of Ireland who came to the Stockton Diocese in 1973 and served at Our Lady of Fatima in Modesto and St. Jude's in Ceres, among other parishes. He helped found the Modesto Youth Soccer Association.
After the allegation was made public in October 2007, many people contacted The Bee to describe their positive encounters with Kelly, as children and adults. Bob Gotelli, who served as the first MYSA commissioner, called Kelly "a champion of children."
The civil trial is expected to last three to five weeks, Beatty said.
John Manly, a southern California attorney who represents the unidentified plaintiff, said in an earlier interview that his client is "a young father, an officer in the military, someone that you'd be proud to have living next door to you."
In September, Manly sent a letter to the diocese alleging a second incident of abuse against Kelly. That accusation by a 21-year-old man claims Kelly abused him a decade ago when he served as an altar boy at St. Andrew's Catholic Church in San Andreas.
That incident is under investigation by the diocese and was referred to the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department, said diocesan attorney Paul Balestracci. No lawsuit has been filed on those charges, he said.
Kelly has "totally denied the allegations," according to his legal consultant, Albert Ellis.
Myers once served at Our Lady of Fatima and St. Jude's. He also used to teach at Patterson Junior High School. An independent review board recommended he be permanently removed from serving as pastor at St. Raymond's Catholic Church in Menlo Park. He had been a priest with the San Francisco archdiocese for more than a decade.
According to police and news reports, Myers was shopping in a Ross store April 17 when he followed a 17-year-old boy into his dressing room. The boy's father alerted store employees, who called police. No charges were filed and no one else has accused Myers of any inappropriate conduct, Wesolek said.
Myers had told the Stockton Diocese in 1995 he had "sexual identity" issues. In May, he told San Francisco archdiocesan officials he thought the teen was at least 18. They had never met before the incident.
Church law requires the archdiocese to provide Myers with his room and board until or unless he is able to support himself, Wesolek said.