Repressed Memories Focus of Priest Child Sex Abuse Trial

By Jennie Rodriguez-Moore
The Record
February 25, 2012

Arguments in a civil trial where a popular priest from the Diocese of Stockton is accused of child sex abuse centered on a 37-year-old man's recovered memories.

The Rev. Michael Kelly of St. Joachim Church and the Catholic Church are defendants in the civil suit where opening statements were heard Friday.

"This is a case about innocence stolen," John Manly, a Newport Beach attorney, said.

Allegations are based on the man's recent recollections of traumatic memories he said he had repressed since his childhood. The former altar boy says he was molested by Kelly while a student at Annunciation School.

The validity of his recovered memories is expected to be a contentious point with the defense.

"We are not suggesting that he is being purposely untruthful in this case," said Jim Goodman, who is representing Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton.

But the defense will attempt to prove that they are false - possibly self-imagined or doctor-implanted - memories.

"People have been falsely accused based on recovered memories," Goodman said.

But attorneys for the plaintiff say their client recalled events before he began seeing a therapist.

They say their evidence will show Kelly, 62, abused his position of trust.

Manly explained to jurors that Catholic priests are well regarded by parishioners as representing God.

"When a child is molested by a priest, ... from their perspective it's like being molested by God himself," he said.

Identified in court papers as John TZ Doe, the plaintiff is a former U.S. Air Force major who became a commercial pilot after he was honorably discharged. He is a father of two daughters.

Manly said his client became severely depressed after retrieving long-suppressed memories.

"This young man's dream was to fly a jet," Manly said. But his client now must take anti-depression medication and can no longer carry on his career as a pilot, Manly said, because Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibit him from flying while taking that medication.

Manly's team plans to show that Kelly had a history of inappropriate touching of children and teens.

He was known to rough house, baby-sit, tickle and play games, Manly said. And people had expressed concerns about Kelly's behavior toward the youth since the 1970s, he said.

According to the defense, Kelly's interactions with children were innocent in nature.

"He was a very young, outgoing priest," said Tom Beatty, who is representing Kelly.

Beatty said Kelly is eager to be exonerated. "He has been falsely accused," Beatty said.

The Diocese investigated the charges when the lawsuit was filed, and Kelly was placed on administrative leave for six months. He has since been reinstated to head of St. Joachim Church.

Jurors will begin hearing testimony Wednesday. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.

Contact reporter Jennie Rodriguez-Moore at (209) 943-8564 or . Visit her blog at








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