" He Considers His Life Over"

California Catholic Daily
April 10, 2012

Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire has removed a longtime diocesan priest from ministry even though the bishop says he believes the priest is innocent of any wrongdoing.

Bishop Blaire took the action on Friday, April 6, after a San Joaquin County Superior Court jury found Fr. Michael Kelly, 62, liable for damages in a civil suit filed against him alleging he sexually molested a former altar boy in the mid-1980s at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton.

Fr. Kelly, until Friday pastor at St. Joachim's Catholic Church in Lockeford, vigorously denied the allegations and testified in his own defense at the trial. But the jury apparently believed his now 37-year-old accuser, identified in court records only as "John TZ Doe," who maintained that, until recently, he had repressed memories of being sexually molested when he was around 10 years old.

No criminal charges can be brought against Fr. Kelly because the statute of limitations had expired before his accuser came forward.

"Today, a civil jury found in favor of the plaintiff in a case alleging sexual abuse by Fr. Michael Kelly in the 1980s," said Bishop Blaire in a statement issued April 6. "In light of this verdict, I have made the decision to remove Fr. Kelly from ministry, effective immediately."

"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," the bishop's statement continued. "Our view of the evidence has not changed, and Fr. Kelly continues to deny the allegations against him. Nevertheless, it is my belief that the jury verdict must be respected, and I have taken action in accord with our Church's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

The same jury that found Fr. Kelly liable is scheduled this week to take up a second prong in the lawsuit: whether the Diocese of Stockton is financially responsible for the priest's alleged misconduct. The diocese's previous handling of similar cases is expected to play a key role in the plaintiff's suit.

"He's dismayed," diocesan attorney Tom Beatty was quoted as saying of Fr. Kelly in the Stockton Record. "It never occurred to him or the diocese that a guilty verdict would be the outcome. 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 into evidence a polygraph test that Kelly passed," the Record reported.

Fr. Kelly came to California from Ireland in 1973 and served at parishes in Stockton, Modesto and Sonora until he was assigned in 2004 to St. Joachim's in Lockeford. Bishop Blaire briefly suspended Fr. Kelly from active ministry when the accusations against him first surfaced in September 2007, but the bishop reinstated Fr. Kelly in March 2008.

"We investigated as thoroughly as possible under these circumstances," Bishop Blaire said in a statement at the time. "A professional investigator was engaged by the diocese. His investigation did not reveal any evidence of sexual abuse on the part of Father Kelly."


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