Jury Finds Priest Liable for Abuse

By Jordan Guinn
Stockton Record
April 7, 2012

Michael Kelly

The jury in a civil trial found that Father Michael Kelly should be held liable on three counts related to child molestation, according to the lawyer of his accuser.

Attorney John Manly said Friday a civil jury unanimously agreed his client, a 37-year-old man identified in court papers as John TZ Doe, was molested by Kelly while Kelly was a priest at Annunciation Cathedral in Stockton. The plaintiff was a student at Annunciation school in the 1980s.

"Kelly will never again have access to a child as a member of the Stockton Diocese," Manly said.

Kelly, 62, was removed from the ministry immediately after the verdict, according to the Diocese of Stockton. Before the verdict, Kelly served as a pastor at St. Joachim Catholic Church in Lockeford.

Now that Kelly's verdict has been delivered, the same jury will start a phase of the trial on Wednesday determining the diocese's role in the alleged abuse and liability. Manly said removing Kelly from the diocese is a substantial victory.

Decisions in civil trials can be appealed, but an attorney for the Diocese of Stockton would not comment on whether one could be expected.

If an appeal were filed, it wouldn't take place until after the entire trial is complete.

While a civil jury has ruled against Kelly, he does not face criminal prosecution in San Joaquin County because the statute of limitations has expired.

Friday's verdict is the culmination of four years of litigation and a seven-week trial, Manly said. The hearings centered on the plaintiff's allegations of sexual abuse he had repressed over the decades. The defense challenged the legitimacy of those memories.

The plaintiff's attorneys also argued Kelly had victimized multiple children, but testimony from an alleged second victim was not allowed into trial.

Both Kelly and the plaintiff testified, and the alleged victim's courtroom breakdown was one of the defining moments of the trial, according to a man who attended multiple hearings.

"He was in Day 2 or 3 of testimony and cross-examination, and he had an outburst," said Tim Lennon, of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "He pointed and yelled, 'You raped me, I was just a kid,' and it came from the very core of him as a person. It hit me to my heart, and I assume it had a similar effect on the jury."

Tom Beatty, an attorney for the diocese, said the jury was very emotional when it delivered the verdict that devastated Kelly.

"He's dismayed; it never occurred to him or the diocese that a guilty verdict would be the outcome," Beatty said. "He's out of the priesthood and leaves the rectory (today). He considers his life over."

Beatty maintains the former priest's innocence and said the defense was hampered because it could not enter a polygraph test Kelly passed into evidence for the trial.

Bishop Stephen Blaire issued a news release supporting Kelly, despite the decision to remove him from the clergy.

"The Diocese's decision to defend this case was based on a careful analysis of the information available and on a genuine belief that the accusations are not true," Blaire said. "Nevertheless, it is my belief that the jury verdict must be respected, and I have taken action."

The trial resumes Wednesday, and the diocese's previous handlings of child molestation cases, including that of defrocked and criminally convicted priest Oliver O'Grady, will be heard shortly.

The Irish native O'Grady was recently convicted of pornography charges in his homeland. Before that, the former Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Stockton served time for child molestation in San Joaquin County.

Before his 1993 arrest, O'Grady had been a priest at St. Anne's Catholic Church in Lodi, the Church of the Presentation in Stockton, St. Andrew's Catholic Church in San Andreas and others.

Allegations against O'Grady have cost the Diocese of Stockton millions of dollars in settlements in more than 20 lawsuits brought by alleged victims.

Most recently, the diocese settled with a brother and sister in 2010 who said they were sexually abused by O'Grady while they were students at Presentation Catholic School.

Lennon said he was pleased with Friday's decision and how it vindicates the plaintiff.

"It flies in the face of the church's easy dismissal of his accusation; instead of investigating Kelly, they investigated the victim."

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at (209) 546-8279 or Visit his blog at








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