Jurors Can Weigh Priest's Departure in Abuse Case

By Jennie Rodriguez-Moore
The Record
April 19, 2012

Michael Kelly

Jury members must decide for themselves if the sudden departure of Catholic priest Michael Kelly, found liable of sexually assaulting a former altar boy, is an attempt to limit evidence against the Diocese of Stockton, San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt told a jury Wednesday in a civil case filed against the priest and the church.

Kelly left the United States on Sunday for his native Ireland just two days before he was scheduled to testify in the civil trial. A former altar boy who said he was molested by Kelly more than 20 years ago is seeking damages from Kelly and the diocese.

This jury already found Kelly liable and is now determining whether the diocese is also to blame.

The diocese, which continued paying Kelly a salary and benefits until church officials learned he left for Ireland, stopped his compensation, defense attorney Jim Goodman confirmed Wednesday.

In a letter to Bishop Stephen Blaire dated April 15, Kelly said since the jury found him liable of the sexual misconduct allegations, his health and digestive problems have worsened.

"I am sorry for any difficulty this may cause the diocese, but my health can't take it anymore," Kelly wrote.

Defense attorney Thomas Beatty said Kelly plans to die in Ireland.

Kelly had received notice to appear in court, but his absence caused McNatt to halt testimony until he decided how to address the departure.

It is unlikely the judge can enforce the notice, since the case is a civil suit instead of a criminal complaint, said John Manly, who is representing the victim identified in court papers as John TZ Doe.

The plaintiff filed a civil suit because the statute of limitations had run out in his case. He said he had repressed the memories of the abuse and didn't recover those memories until years later.

In lieu of Kelly's testimony, McNatt decided, attorneys may present his deposition.

Beatty said Kelly has no plans to return to the United States, but the priest offered to testify via video conference. The offer was declined in court, Beatty said.

Attorneys said McNatt told jurors they may choose to disbelieve anything in Kelly's deposition, and they may also choose how they want to interpret his exit to Ireland.

Contact reporter Jennie Rodriguez-Moore at (209) 943-8564 or Visit her blog at








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