Judge: Sex-Abuse Trial Can Target Both Priest and Diocese

By Jennie Rodriguez-Moore
The Record
February 17, 2012

Michael Kelly

STOCKTON - Attorneys for a 37-year-old man, who accuses a Lockeford priest of molesting him as a child, may argue in a civil trial that the Diocese of Stockton is liable and it somehow benefited from the reverend's actions, a judge ruled Thursday.

But first the plaintiff's attorneys must prove that the Rev. Michael Kelly, 62, sexually abused the altar boy during the 1980s while he served at Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton.

Kelly, now at St. Joachim Church in Lockeford, has served at various parishes throughout San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.

San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt heard motions this week to determine which facts will be admissible in the upcoming trial.

One issue that might surface during the trial is the use of a polygraph test ordered by the diocese following the victim's claim, which suggests Kelly was telling the truth when he denied sodomizing they boy.

The results show there was less than a 1 percent chance Kelly lied in his answers.

Attorneys for the plaintiff, identified in court as John TZ Doe, have argued the validity of that test.

After hearing testimony from the examiner who conducted the test, McNatt did not rule Thursday on whether to admit the test results. He will deal with the issue as it comes up during the trial.

McNatt, however, has concluded there are enough facts to argue that the diocese indirectly approved of Kelly's alleged criminal behavior.

Attorney Jim Goodman, representing the diocese, said the church would never authorize sexual abuse, and that allowing Kelly to baby-sit the child or to conduct Mass doesn't qualify as sanctioning such acts.

"This can never happen," Goodman said. "It's just impossible."

But the plaintiff's attorney, Vince Finaldi, claims the church did benefit by keeping the victim's family as parishioners.

They also gained from that family's financial support, he said.

"We need to show what they should have done to take him out of ministry," said Finaldi, a Newport Beach lawyer who specializes in sex-abuse cases.

McNatt ultimately allowed the plaintiff to seek liability from Kelly and the diocese.

The diocese's history of child sex-abuse allegations and convictions also will be allowed in court, except for certain specific details of each case.

But McNatt ruled that the plaintiff may not ask for punitive damages.



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