Stockton Diocese Accused of Cover-Up in Michael Kelly Case

By Ross Farrow
Lodi News-Sentinel
April 13, 2012

Now that Father Michael Kelly has been held liable for sexual assault and removed as pastor of a Lockeford parish, his civil trial will focus on the Stockton Diocese's role in handling Kelly and other priests accused of childhood sexual abuse.

"The diocese made a concerted effort to cover up for Father Kelly," attorney John Manly told the jury in his opening statement on Thursday morning. "They value money, power and their reputation more than they do children. Ladies and gentlemen, that has got to stop."

The 10-woman, two-man jury found Kelly, 62, liable on Friday of sexually assaulting an altar boy in the mid-1980s. The plaintiff, now a 37-year-old man from the Marin County community of Fairfax, 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 in the 1980s at Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton, where Kelly was a young priest.

In his opening statement Thursday, defense attorney Jim Goodman made a concerted effort to defend diocese Bishop Stephen Blaire.

Blaire placed Kelly on administrative leave from St. Joachim's Catholic Church in 2007, but reinstated him to the Lockeford church in March 2008. Blaire said at the time that the diocese's investigation showed no evidence to show that Kelly sexually assaulted the plaintiff.

Blaire had Kelly take three psychiatric examinations in the early 2000s after a Tracy man contacted the diocese regarding a 1979 incident in which Kelly allegedly tickled and roughhoused him. The man, who had a son in parochial school in Tracy about 10 years ago, called the diocese to request that Kelly stay away from his son.

In 2007, the diocese hired a retired FBI agent to investigate allegations against Kelly when the plaintiff's father reported them to the diocese in 2007, Goodman told the jury in his opening statement.

Manly, representing the plaintiff, described the diocese investigation as a "sham" intended to protect Kelly and the diocese. The attorney also told the jury he will present witnesses testifying about the diocese's handling of convicted pedophile priest Oliver O'Grady and other priests who faced childhood sexual abuse allegations.

According to Goodman, Kelly passed a lie detector test shortly after Kelly was placed on administrative leave in 2007, but Blaire wasn't aware for 10 days that Kelly had taken the test. Kelly insists that he has not committed any sexual abuse.

Goodman said that the during the trial's second phase, the person who administered the polygraph test, who is very qualified and experienced in the field, will testify. Goodman said that polygraph tests are 99-percent accurate.

Manly disagrees, saying that polygraph tests are so unreliable that the test results weren't admissible as evidence during the first phase of the trial, which held Kelly personally liable of sexual assault.

Manly also told the jury that Cardinal Roger Mahony, who retired last year as bishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, will testify in the second phase of the Kelly trial. Mahony, bishop of the Stockton Diocese from 1980-85, was bishop when the plaintiff was at Cathedral of the Annunciation and oversaw Kelly during that time.

In addition to determining whether the Stockton Diocese is liable in handling sexual abuse allegations during the past four decades, the jury will determine how much in damages to award the plaintiff.

In testimony Thursday afternoon, Sister Barbara Thiella, the diocese chancellor, said that the diocese was notified in 2003 that Kelly may have engaged in "improper behavior."

When asked if she reported the information to law enforcement, Thiella said she didn't because Kelly engaged in what diocese officials considered to be immature acts, but not sexual misconduct.



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