Stockton priest removed from ministry after jury finds he molested boy in mid-1980s, bishop says he still believes the priest is innocent

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 theStockton 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.”



Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 12:50 AM By Dan
Given the current climate, it seems any priest unpopular with an unbalanced and vindictive individual could fall victim just as Fr. Kelly did. Maybe this is why priests are afraid to confront sin in the pulpit or uphold church teaching in counseling/confession, for fear that retaliatory measures would be taken and embraced by a sympathetic jury. There is a lot of bitter hatred toward the Church in present times,and what better way to strike back than to attack her priests.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 4:15 AM By Angelo
As far as the priesthood of Fr. Kelly is concerned, the Stockton Diocese should not allow a civil jury to decide his future. The Diocese needs to take into consideration that our justice system is broken. It is an unjust system where a group of men and woman judge by the standard as to whether they like you or don’t like you. Fr. Kelly being a Catholic Priest was doomed before the jury was even chosen. Fr. passed a polygraph test and it was not admitted in court. Many times Judges are not impartial, they team up with the prosecution. This is illegal but always tolerated. I know of 5 cases where the defendants had solid proof of their innocence. But the Judge and the Prosecution declared the evidence as inadmisable in court, and they were found guilty by fallible men and woman. Our Justice system must be reformed. The Stockton Diocese if it believes in this priest’s innocence should reconsider and reinstate him immediatley. Mary Mother of Priests defend Fr. Kelly!

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 4:53 AM By Sixupman
Only one complainant? Have not, of course, seen all the evidence, but tend to side with the priest. What a burden if he is innocent, he should be in our prayers.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 5:10 AM By John
I feel bad for this priest and I think the church needs to find a way to better defend them against such ridiculous accusations such as repressed in suddenly they remember and a substantial amount of money will cure it .If his accuser is lying he places his soul in jeapody.I hope if his accuser is lying that he will realize the damage he has done and admit to it.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 5:17 AM By Gail
Father Kelly, I am so sorry to hear of your plight. Please be strong and know that God is with you and loves you. If I was near you, I could help you; as it is, I can only pray for you – which is, of course, the strongest option in any case. God will not desert you, never fear. Satan is rampant at the moment – but not for long, so hold on. Only a short time now, thank God. He who laughs last, laughs longest.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 5:31 AM By Fred
Yet another fearful bishop throws a priest under the bus.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 5:34 AM By Tom
I am personally very sceptical of repressed memory testimony. That said, Jesus suffered lies and false testimony. Fr. Kelly, your life is not over. Your Bishop supports you; hold your head high, & continue to be witness to Christ in this very difficult time for you. The Lord walks with you.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 5:43 AM By Tom
GUILTY ! Until absolutely, positively proven innocent. SNAP and the media will see to it, along with collaberative juries.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 5:46 AM By Jane
What about the lives of his victims? Their souls died when he molested the,.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 6:00 AM By hattie
“Once accused, always guilty!” The media, courts and SNAP are ensuring that they can legally attack the church and know how to press the emotional, embellished side of the issues to ensure that they win their money settlement. Child sexual abuse is an abomination! False accusation and character destruction are also an abomination!

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 6:05 AM By JMJ
It is wonderful to see a Bishop stand up for one of his brotherly Priest that was falsely accused. Let up pray for the one that accused this man of God, that he will recant and come out with the truth, as his special place in hell will be very horrible, indeed. Remember that it was the horrible actions of one Bishop (Gregory) that has jeopardized and destroyed the lives of so many, good, falsely accused Priests. I hope that he can enjoy his life, as these true victims (Priests) have been put out to ‘pasture’, without a place to live, a job (very many of them are up in age) and this very heavy weight of being falsely accused of homosexuality activities. His snow-job that he gave to Pope John Paul was very disgusting to say the least. +JMJ+

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 6:33 AM By Domingo
What really matters is the court before God. Father Kelly, don’t lose hope. We are an Easter people and CHRiST has won the victory for us. Let us pray for those who accused you — their salvation is far more important than anything else. God loves them as much as He loves each one of us. This is another opportunity to reach out to them in love. I know it is easy for me to say these things because I am not the one involved, but I must recognize the fact that each soul is precious before the eyes of God. He sent His only begotten Son not for a chosen few but for everyone. “Jesus draws all men to Himself.” The Father’s love is given freely and is not won by merit. The father wants that all men be saved.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 6:35 AM By 4unborn
What is the professional investigator’s definition of “sexual abuse?” Did he base his opinion on anything more than the statements of the individuals?

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 6:57 AM By Anna Asher
It seems the use of lie detector tests and the testimony of their results is always subject to the desired outcome of the trial.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 7:04 AM By Laurette Elsberry
I read a very intense book the other day: “Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, the Fraud, the Stories”. It is unbelievable how many “repressed memories” become unleashed when there is deep pocket money available for the asking.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 7:09 AM By Sue in soCal
Repressed memories? Please! Stop it already!

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 7:18 AM By DPierre
I followed this case closely for quite some time. There were two thorough investigations (Church and law enforcement), two lie detector tests, and no other similar accusations against Fr. Kelly. The accusation was based on a thoroughly discredited theory of “repressed memory,” yet the jury was duped into thinking it was legitimate. And the two polygraph tests were not allowed to be entered! I believe that Fr. Kelly got steamrolled by the plaintiff’s attorney, John Manly, a ruthless man with extreme venom against the Church. Yes, John Manly once compared being a Catholic priest to being a train conductor carrying prisoners to Auschwitz. (Google: John Manly Auschwitz KUCI) The guy is awful. A sad day for justice and the Church, imho.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 7:20 AM By Sam
I commend Bishop Blaire for his approach to this accusation: Suspend priest, investigate, reach a conclusion of innocence, and then reinstate priest. This is what a true shepherd does. Father Kelly now has a heavy cross to carry after having his priestly faculties removed. I wish more bishops responded the way Bishop Blaire did because the fact of the matter is that it was rare (1.7%) that a priest in the United States ever sexually offended but certainly many have been falsely accused with no one to defend them. Thank you, Bishop Blaire, for your courage to lead and love your priests.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 7:36 AM By JLS
The money amount has not been settled yet … thus the Bishop is playing the game of minimizing the amount that he will be paying. Also, why doesn’t the priest press criminal charges of fraud against the accuser?

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 7:52 AM By Mike
Once these cases get to court, the priest loses. Every time. Evidence doesn’t matter. Facts don’t matter. If a jury sees a crying adult and pictures of a smiling kid, the case is over. These men are always guilty until proven innocent, and even if they are proven innocent, their lives are changed forever. How do you erase the stigma of even a false accusation? Why is the burden of proof so low in these cases?

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:07 AM By Larry
Verdicts in civil trials generally require a lower burden of proof than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the standard in criminal cases. It may have required “clear and convincing evidence,” meaning that any reasonable person would be convinced, or “preponderance of evidence,” meaning that the accusation is more likely than not to be true (in the opinion of the jurors.) Thus you very often can get findings of liability in civil court when you can’t get a “guilty” verdict in criminal court. Hopefully, the diocese will appeal–and we’ll see what the higher courts may do with the “repressed memory” testimony–something I find highly suspicious. It is also worth noting that the notorious priest-abusers had long and fulsome records of abuse, with diocesan files bulging with complaint letters, sometimes written over decades. It would be unusual for an offender to have molested only one person in his career, especially if, again due to “repressed memory” syndrome, he had seemingly gotten away with it.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:10 AM By Christine
It’s hard to think of anything more foul than falsely accusing a priest of such things. It’s well past time that the church started standing up to these people and fighting back in the courts, demanding huge amounts of money as repayment for their lies, compensation for the victim priests and court costs, and so on. Once they see there’s no money to be made by falsely accusing a priest, they will likely think twice about trying it. Hang in there, Father Kelly. You do have people who know you’re innocent and are praying for you.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:21 AM By Ted
All I had to see was the phrase “repressed memory”. Usually that means “manufactured memory” and should not be allowed as evidence in court or an unbiased mind. How does the accused refute a “repressed memory” allegation ? It’s not possible to prove a negative. That’s why we have to be judged guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Had I been on a jury that relied on repressed memory, it would be hung forever. I would not vote to convict on evidence that thin.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:26 AM By Georgia
Jane at 5:46am. Who are the other victims that you mentoined.? If you can’t name them please don’t infer that there are other victims.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:32 AM By Ryan
No evidence–“he said-he said”, “repressed memory”, venomous plaintiff attorney, passed polygraph…twice, and to rub it in, convicted on Good Friday. This stinks.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:56 AM By Patrick
Too bad the statute of limitations is not being observed. How could somebody defend themselves regarding accusations of almost 40 years ago? The priest should sue to have the judgment set aside as illegal.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 9:10 AM By Anne
One complaint and his life is over? NOT SO!!!! He passed the polygraph. The 37-year old is looking for money. Fr. Kelly, my prayers are with you.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 9:37 AM By Famijoly
DPierre, thanks for adding your comments. They helped me understand the context of the case much better. I googled the words as you suggested. I also eventually found the plaintiff’s law firm’s website. Within seconds after getting to that site, the sense of the presence of evil was palpable to me. I am not exaggerating, and I am not given to hyperbole, especially on spiritual matters. The firm’s focus on sexual abuse litigation lists the types of abuse that victims can face and that the firm is willing to litigate against. Particularly chilling, in its coldness, was a STATED special interest in litigating against clergy sexual abuse and the list of “Catholic organizations” the firm sued on behalf of its clients. All the “Catholic organizations” (listed like conquests) are actually dioceses in California and Alaska, with a few dioceses even listed twice (like “Diocese of Stockton” and then farther down the list “Diocese of Stockton abuse”). As others have indicated on this thread, eternal salvation is of prime importance. Let us pray for the salvation of the accuser. Let us pray for the salvation of the lawyers for they appear to be (again no hyperbole) under Satan’s power. Read, pray with, and act upon God’s Word in Ephesians 6:10-20.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 9:51 AM By Therese
END TIMES PERSECUTIONS. The priests and Church are in my prayers. Pope Paul IV prophecied that the “smoke of Satan would enter the church”. We need to band together and PRAY for all of this…

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 10:43 AM By JLS
Press criminal charges for fraud against the plaintiff.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 11:05 AM By Rose
I don’t know how the jurors in these matters can live with themselves. These people have become so mashed-brained and deluded with secular propaganda and what’s politically correct they can no longer form their own thoughts. Look around at society – Has it improved with the downfall of the Catholic Church? What a laugh…. Can anyone step forward with something better? Everyone is deluded.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 11:11 AM By drcg
Whether Fr. Kelly is guilty or not, and we pray that he is not, he should offer up all this pain and anguish to God in reparation for all the sins committed by Catholic priests and others against children. The damage is so great and so destructive, not just for the victims but for all of us who are part of the church and society. Impurity against children is the worst kind of sin and the most prevalent in our society. As a teacher of children, my heart breaks for all these victims, and I cry out to God to heal them and to heal the priests and our society–to heal His people from this particular evil which causes unimaginable pain to the spirits and the souls of the victims. Prayers of reparation coming from one’s own pain and suffering are so powerful in healing, restoring and protecting our society from these evils perpetrated against innocent children. Pain and suffering joined with Jesus’ suffering is what will help our world to make atonement for every kind of evil. I have prayed for God to bring all our priests and bishops to pray prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament and to cry out to God for forgiveness and mercy. They are His representatives on earth and must make atonement with such humility and sincerity. I fear if they don’t, this evil will rear its ugly head again and again. Root out the poison will prayer and spiritual warfare so it will never return to harm one single child again. God hears these prayers and brings good from the pain and suffering. I hope Fr. Kelly does that, and that we will witness the power of God through his suffering, and Lord willing, if He sees fit, to return him to the priesthood because of his faithfulness to prayer and fasting and humility. God bless us all and may He have mercy on our Church, our clergy, and our world!

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 11:46 AM By Laurie
Eventually the horror of false allegations for profit will come to light. Meanwhile good priests reputations are being anihillated and some innocent even being incarcerated for many years. This does not at all make the guilty any less culpable. However, the innocent are assumed guilty and this is a travesty. There needs to be severe repercussions for those who maliciously accuse.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 11:47 AM By Laurette Elberry
In looking at this story again, and the comments, I note that the book: “Catholic Priests Falsely Accused…” is advertised on the side banner of this CalCatholic story. I would encourage readers to purchase the book. It is an eye-opener.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 12:14 PM By Sophia
It is over time that Catholics stand up for priests, not simply prayers……do something useful for a change instead of all the talk..which goes nowhere.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 12:28 PM By Cami Murphy
My heart is hurting for Fr. Kelly, and I will be praying for him and for all priests who have been falsely accused. Of course, I pray with my whole heart, also, for those individuals who were abused by priests and by others. Sorrowful Mother, pray for us!

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 1:28 PM By Tracy
A falsely accused priest is a living martyr in today’s church. Let’s pray that Fr. Kelly and others like him are given the grace to offer up their sufferings and trials for the sanctification of the church in these evil times. Only our Savior can understand the abandonment these priest are suffering as He suffered the same thing while on the cross. May our Blessed Mother intercede for her innocently accused priest. May we offer daily prayers and sacrifice for them as well.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 2:20 PM By Aurora
Here in Chicago many years ago Cardinal Bernardi was falsely accused of having abused a young kid, person said he had repressed memories all was a lie. The guy wanted to get money from church, accusation hurt the Cardinal deeply, guy asked him to forgive him and Cardinal Bernadi did.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 2:37 PM By Joycelen
These kind of accusations are getting out of hand! At first, I believed that some priest did this and they probably did. They will have a judgement awaiting them for their deeds and for the pain that they subsequently put innocent priests through. Father Kelly, you are in our prayers. Our justice system is broken indeed. and citizens need to work for restoring it. Blessings on Father Kelly. Do not be dismayed. You have many praying for you.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 2:55 PM By kathleen
God bless this priest & his bishop! I’m a 70 yr old Catholic, & if it can offer you any consolation, there are many of us who cannot be active anymore, but every ache, pain, loss of movement, are all being offered as a prayer for the Clergy now, especially the falsely accused! You are far from forgotten!!

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 3:14 PM By Mark from PA
I agree with you Angelo, Father Kelly should not be suspended as the diocese investigated this and did not find any evidence of abuse on the part of Father Kelly. Since nobody else came forward it seems that Father Kelly is indeed innocent. However, it needs to be remember that in most cases children do not make up charges of sexual abuse. In cases where priests have been found to have abused children, they do need to be removed. We have sympathy for Father Kelly but we must also have sympathy for innocent victims who have in many cases been mistreated by the Church.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 3:49 PM By JNS
Alot of New Age Therapists and Psychologist are leading guided meditations and regressions for their patients and suggesting such things probably happened to them. They are inducing false memories in their patients subconscious minds during an altered mental state and these therapists hate the Catholic Church…indeed.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 3:51 PM By Abeca Christian
Aurora how can anyone forgive such ugly accusations? I stand by what Saint Father Phillipe Neri preached about those who bare false witness, if you can go back and take back all the harm then it is then that you will make reparation for all the harm done. I don’t think any woman or man can recover something so horrific as these kind of accusations can cause. It can be traumatic and emotionally draining. A few years ago, my friend who is an awesome mum, a devout Catholic whom I valued dearly, she has 7 children, someone with malice intent made false reports that her children were being abused at home. CPS went to their school, took the kids out of class to question them, they went to neighbors for questioning and then did a visit to her home. She wanted to die, she felt awful, it was very personal because she knew she was innocent but it hurt and it made her lose her self esteem when parenting her kids. Long story short, they went through a lot, restless sleep and all, of course they found no evidence of abuse, but she felt violated, they just came in and she had no rights. Those who knew about CPS visiting her home, now had in the back of their mind suspicions when there should be none. She felt on trial trying to prove her innocence and concerned what could of happened to her kids. She moved and I miss her dearly, she cut off contact with a lot of people. I’m sure she was paranoid wondering who could of done such a evil deed to accuse her, she had her suspicions because she had a few close relatives who hated her and were jealous of her family. Envy, Jealousy can be very dangerous when people get to the point of envy, they can do much harm!

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 4:00 PM By Angelo
Several years ago calcathdaily featured an article of a priest of the Fresno Diocese accused by two brothers of sexual molestation. The older brother testified that when he learned this priest was sexualy abusing his younger brother, he bravely went to confront the priest. The priest according to this guy turned around and sexually abused him! for 5 years up to the age of 21. Thrown out of court several times. These brothers and their lawyers played an evil trick. This priest had a major heart attack in 1999, his first major stroke in 2000 and his second major stroke in 2002. Leaving the priest mentaly impaired. The brothers and the lawyers called him by phone in 2003 and convinced him he sexualy abused them. The poor priest believing it apoligized to them. The Diocese did nothing to defend the priest, they fought only to defend their coffers. That phone recorded evidence should had been inadmisable evidence because the priest medicaly no longer had all his faculties when it was recorded. There were priests who wanted this good priest to be found guilty as the priest was very traditional and always fought them back, defending the truths of our faith. The last I heard is that the 2 brothers are appealing, they want their 20,000,000 Dollars. The good priest is now deceased, certainly looking with sadness and disbelief at his “Gente Non Sancta” brother priests and Bishop.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 4:22 PM By JNS
They need to investigate the background of the Therapist that helped this man unearth these repressed memories. Find out the technique used and the religion of the therapist because if it’s New Age or Wiccan…..I smell a big fat rat and know for sure they hate the Catholic Church and want to destroy it. They really need to investigate the therapist that assisted this man in remembering these so called repressed memories. It’s funny… one ever seems to come out and say it happened recently so witnesses can be found. Investigate the psychologist that helped him regain these memories.