Catholic Priest Accused in Abuse Suit Returns to Ireland

By Sue Nowicki
Modesto Bee
April 16, 2012

MODESTO -- In a stunning development, the Stockton Diocese announced Monday afternoon that the Rev. Michael Kelly had flown to Ireland on the eve of testifying in the second phase of his sexual abuse civil trial.

He told his attorney he is very ill and wants to "die with his family."

On April 6, a San Joaquin County jury found Kelly liable of sexual misconduct against an unidentified plaintiff when he was a Stockton parish school student more than 25 years ago. The second phase, against Bishop Stephen Blaire and the Stockton Diocese over its handling of the complaint against Kelly, was to resume in Stockton this morning.

In a letter dated Sunday and hand-delivered to the bishop Monday, Kelly wrote that he was leaving the country because of his poor health. He again insisted on his innocence against "vicious false allegations" and said he had "lost everything" because of them.

"I have spent the last 39 years of my life serving God and the people of the various parishes of the Diocese of Stockton," Kelly wrote. "Now I have not only lost my ministry, but this whole thing has taken its toll on my very being."

He thanked the bishop for his "unwavering" faith but said he needed the unconditional love of his family to begin to heal from the ordeal.

The plaintiff's lead attorney, John Manley, was incensed over the development. "Father Kelly is a pedophile who is now officially on the run from justice because he's guilty," Manley said.

Kelly's attorney, Thomas Beatty, said he spoke by phone with his client Monday afternoon. "He was going to testify tomorrow," Beatty said. "He wasn't going to say much more than he had already testified to. Basically, I feel horrible for his personal devastation and his illness, but I still need to have him help with this phase of the trial. I wanted him to return. I asked him to return. But he's lost a lot of weight in the past eight days and said he wants to die with his family."

Beatty said he knows Kelly's departure might appear to be proof of his guilt; the attorney believes instead it's proof of the huge physical and emotional toll of the civil trial.

"This is a human drama unfolding far beyond anything we can understand," Beatty said. "He left because he's devastated and destroyed as a human being."

Accusations focused on '80s

Kelly, 62, served at Modesto, Sonora and Ceres parishes, among others, after arriving from his native Ireland in the early 1970s. He was accused in 2008 of sexually abusing a student at Stockton's Cathedral of the Annunciation parish school in the mid-1980s. The plaintiff, now a 37-year-old man from Marin County, said he recovered memories of the abuse in 2006.

When asked whether Kelly would be held in contempt of court, Beatty said he doesn't know what will happen when the trial resumes.

"That's the first thing we're going to ask the judge," said Vince Finaldi, one of the plaintiff's attorneys. "He had a subpoena asking him to appear. All of a sudden we got a letter at 4 o'clock today saying he's in Ireland.

"It's very, very hard to believe that he found his way back to Ireland on his own. We're going to have to wait to see what happens."

Kelly also is under investigation by the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office because of another accusation of sexual molestation, this one from an altar boy who said the abuse occurred while Kelly served at St. Andrew's Church in San Andreas.

Blaire said the diocese has notified Calaveras County law enforcement that Kelly left the country. Calaveras County District Attorney Barbara Yook declined to comment Monday.

Kelly has not been defrocked he continues to hold the title of priest but he no longer is allowed to wear a collar or perform the sacraments, said Sister Terry Davis, communications director for the Diocese of Stockton. It is unlikely any Catholic church would hire Kelly because he would not pass a background investigation, Davis said.



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