What's Next for Former Valley Priest Kelly after Verdict?

By Ross Farrow
Modesto Bee
April 11, 2012

Modesto Bee - Father Michael Kelly

STOCKTON -- As Father Michael Kelly leaves St. Joachim's Catholic Church in Lockeford after a jury determined that he sexually assaulted a former altar boy in the 1980s, the Stockton Diocese is picking up the pieces.

Bishop Ste-phen Blaire said Monday that he placed Kelly on paid administrative leave pending a recommendation by a special committee at the Vatican.

Kelly has moved out of the rectory on the parish grounds in Lockeford. He must find his own living arrangements, and he can no longer wear priest's clothing, Blaire said.

Kelly, 62, was found liable of sexually assaulting an altar boy at Stockton's Cathedral of the Annunciation in the mid-1980s. The plaintiff, now a 37-year-old man from Marin County, is on medical leave from his position as a pilot for Southwest Airlines. Kelly doesn't face criminal charges because the statute of limitations has expired.

The plaintiff's name has been withheld by court order because he is a sexual assault victim. He was an altar boy at Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton, where Kelly was a young priest.

Kelly was at Our Lady of Fatima in Modesto from 1973 to 1979 and helped begin the Modesto Youth Soccer Association in 1976. He spent a decade in Sonora beginning in 1987 and worked at St. Jude's in Ceres in 2003-04 before he was sent to Lockeford.

Here are some of the key questions in the aftermath of the jury's finding:

What is Kelly's status?

He no longer can publicly perform priestly duties. He is allowed to be part of Catholic events in a private setting on nonchurch property.

Kelly cannot invite people to participate in privately held events, but individuals can invite him.

Kelly participated in a privately conducted Easter vigil Saturday night at a rural Lodi-area residence.

Blaire is required to write a formal report to a Vatican-based body called the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which is responsible for dealing with clergy sexual abuse crises within the Catholic Church.

"They will advise me back what action they believe should be taken," Blaire said.

That could mean defrocking Kelly as a priest.

What will Sunday Mass be like this weekend?

Blaire has appointed Deacon Bill Warren as "administrator pro tem." Warren has been a deacon at St. Joachim's since 1991, a parishioner since 1989 and an ordained deacon since 1978.

It will be Warren's responsibility to arrange for priests to celebrate the weekend Masses, Blaire said.

As a deacon, Warren is authorized to perform baptisms and weddings.

Who will be the new priest in Lockeford?

No decision has been made. The Stockton Diocese's Priest Personnel Board will recommend a new priest to Blaire. That process won't begin until the second phase of the Kelly trial is completed.

What is the second phase?

The trial addressing sexual assault allegations against Kelly was divided into two phases. The first one ended Friday when the jury voted unanimously to hold Kelly individually liable for sexual assault.

The second phase will examine whether the diocese is liable for failing to take appropriate action against Kelly when it learned about the plaintiff's allegations in 2007.

The second phase will determine how much money Kelly must pay in damages and how much the diocese will pay if the diocese is held liable.

On Tuesday, attorneys and San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt discussed organizational matters for the second phase, including whether attorneys will give opening statements today or if witnesses will begin testifying today.

Attorney John Manly, representing the plaintiff, said the second phase should take two or three weeks to complete.

Isn't there another investigation against Kelly?

Yes, a man claims that he was sexually assaulted between 2000 and 2002 in San Andreas, when he was about 10 years old. Kelly was a priest in San Andreas at the time.

The Calaveras County Sheriff's Department is investigating whether criminal charges should be filed, Manly said.

Sheriff's officials didn't return a call Monday about the status of the investigation, but Manly said it hasn't been completed.

The San Andreas man hasn't decided to sue Kelly, according to Manly, who said the man's primary goal is to have criminal charges filed against Kelly.


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