‘Innocent’ priest flees to Ireland; Stockton diocese settles lawsuit for millions

The Diocese of Stockton has settled a sexual abuse lawsuit for $3.75 million after the priest involved — whom the bishop previously said he believed to be innocent — fled the country.

On April 6, 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. 

A second phase of the trial — in which Fr. Kelly was expected to be a key witness — had been scheduled to begin on April 16, but Fr. Kelly left the country the day before for his native Ireland, leaving behind a letter for Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire explaining why. The second phase was scheduled to assess whether the diocese was financially responsible for Fr. Kelly’s alleged misconduct.

As a consequence of Fr. Kelly’s departure, the trial had to be postponed. In the interim, the diocese and the plaintiff reached an out-of-court settlement.

“The Diocese of Stockton has reached an agreement to settle a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by Fr. Michael Kelly,” said an April 20 statement by Bishop Blaire. “The Diocese agreed to pay the plaintiff and his attorneys $3.75 million, with $2 million of this amount being paid by the Diocese’s insurance carriers. In response, the plaintiff will dismiss his lawsuit and seek no further action against the Diocese or Fr. Kelly.”

“The settlement brings an end to litigation that began more than 4-1/2 years ago and that has occupied a great deal of time and focus,” the brief statement continued. “We respect the right of everyone to have their day in court and we abide by the decisions that were made.”

Following the jury’s finding against Fr. Kelly on April 6, Bishop Stephen Blaire removed the longtime diocesan priest from ministry — even though the bishop said he still believed the priest was innocent.

Fr. Kelly, until April 6 pastor at St. Joachim’s Catholic Church in Lockeford, vigorously denied the allegations. No criminal charges were brought against Fr. Kelly because the statute of limitations had expired before his accuser came forward, but another case is reportedly under investigation by Calaveras County authorities.

In his April 15 letter to Bishop Blaire, Fr. Kelly wrote: “By the time you read this letter I will be in Ireland with my family. I am sorry for any difficulty this may cause the diocese, but my health can’t take it anymore.”

“I have sat back and listened to the vicious false allegations that have been spread about me for the past four and a half years, and my health has suffered greatly because of it,” Fr. Kelly wrote to the bishop. “I have spent the last 39 years of my life serving God and the people of the various parishes of the Diocese of Stockton. Now I have not only lost my ministry, but this whole thing has taken its toll on my very being. I have lost everything I have worked for because of these false allegations.”

“Since the verdict, I am on two kinds of medication for my stomach, I am having chronic bowel problems, I am getting an average of one hour of sleep a night and I am losing weight at an alarming rate,” Fr. Kelly told the bishop.

Fr. Kelly concluded his letter to Bishop Blaire: “Your faith in me has been unwavering, and for that I will be eternally grateful.”

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 Monday, April 23, 2012 5:42 AM By JMJ
Well, that liar might have made a few dollars, along with his evil lawyer, but, they better spend it here, because in hell, all of the banks will be closed, and their ill-gotten goods won’t do them any good down there. We need to get the USCCB to undo all of the evil that Bishop Gregory has done, especially the removal of his stupid policy of making all priest guilty and being forced out of the Church, even without any evidence. He should be removed from the Church. +JMJ+

Posted Monday, April 23, 2012 6:55 AM By Laurette Elsberry
CalCatholic readers, as you read this article, scroll up to the right side banner on the page and note the advertisement for “Catholic Priests Falsely Accused”. I have read this book, and although I do not know Fr. Kelly, and cannot judge anything about this case, if he is innocent I can see why he left the country. His life here is ruined.

Posted Monday, April 23, 2012 7:05 AM By GLO

Posted Monday, April 23, 2012 7:18 AM By JONATHAN
The Roman Cathoilcl Church in the United Sates is throwing any accused priest under the bus, whetehr he is innocent or guilty. One money-hungry nut who makes an accusation can have the man removed from his home, get his name splatteredd all over the newspapers, and see his life ruined, with his own bishop not doing one darned thing to stand up for him — and of cours which priest has enough MONEY to hire his own decent attorney??? In the bad old days, the real victims were never listened to; in the bad NEW days, priests are treated as peopole without rights and have come to learn they will get no justice in this country. If a man’s name finally DOES get cleared, you MIGHT sxee this notice on page 23 in a tiny aritlce of the local paper, at best…

Posted Monday, April 23, 2012 7:36 AM By Angelo
The term “Innocent until proven guilty” should be wiped off the books. It is a law just in writing and bears no effect on the accused. Now another is accusing Fr. Kelley, there will be many more. For them this is better than playing the lottery, the chances of losing are nil. The Church has taken a wrong direction of stripping a priest of his ministry just because he is accused. Does’nt the Church take into consideration the long history of Catholic bigotry in the US. Once this case entered into court, Fr. Kelly for being a Catholic priest, was guilty with the idea of innocent never to be taken into consideration.

Posted Monday, April 23, 2012 8:36 AM By Patrick
How could a person defend himself from allegations, with no proof required? After so many years?

Posted Monday, April 23, 2012 9:19 AM By Tim Lennon
Why does the church pay to settle cases of sexual abuse of children by clergy? And why do they pay so much? These questions can be answered by asking another question: what does Bishop Blaire accomplish by stopping the civil trial? Stopping the trial halts the testimony of church officials who would no longer be able to hide behind their high positions to avoid testifying. It is no accident that Cardinal Mahony was next up to testify, they wanted to avoid that at all costs. Cardinal Mahony and church officials would have been forced to testify under oath. Stopping the trial allows these church officials to keep hidden their decades long practice of endangering the children of the area. High church officials, Bishop Blaire and Cardinal Mahony before him, would rather pay a large sum rather than have the truth of their disregard for the welfare of children become public. They would rather pay than have their high power, privileges and prestige tarnished. They would rather pay than have the Stockton, Modesto, Lockeford, etc. communities understand the breadth of clergy abuse in their communities. They would rather pay that have the community know of the extent of their protection of child abusers. They pay huge sums to keep secrets hidden.

Posted Monday, April 23, 2012 9:37 AM By Anna Asher
Furthermore the innocent declare it, first person, event specific, early and often. This priest did not do that, ever. This Bishop was good to him, perhaps willfully blind, as the investigation did not turn up any proof of innocence and merely failed to produce evidence of sex. There may have been other evidence in that report of a “lesser” extent. We don’t know. Finally- the innocent don’t flee the country. If there were any doubt of his guilt – there can be no more. Bishops need to take the SCAN course. Then have accused priests write their statement. They will exhonorate or incriminate themselves with their own words.

Posted Monday, April 23, 2012 10:11 AM By Larry
The phrase “innocent until proven guilty (beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal matters)” relates to the “presumption of innocence,” that is, the legal principle that the accuser must do the proving, not the accused. This principle comes to us ultimately from Roman Law (and perhaps from the codes of Sparta, Athens and the Book of Deuteronomy) via English Common Law–and was formally enshrined in an 1895 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Coffin v. United States. A classic story is told of the Roman Emperor Julian, who was hearing a criminal case against one of the provincial governors, who made no response to the charges other than to deny them. The frustrated prosecutor exclaimed, “Oh, Caesar! If it is sufficient to deny, what will become of the guilty?” To which Julian replied, “if it is sufficient to accuse, what will become of the innocent?” As for the Father Kelly case–it is tragic. But we need to remember a couple of things: 1) WE DO NOT KNOW WHO IS TELLING THE TRUTH, although most of us seem convinced it is the priest–at least one who posted on another thread believed the accusers. The prohibition against rash judgment cuts both ways. 2) “fleeing the jurisdiction” is the worst thing you can do for your case. It’s taken as an admission of guilt by the courts and cops, not to mention press and public. Some might also wonder how a person as sick as Father Kelly describes himself could have endured a plane ride from California to Ireland.

Posted Monday, April 23, 2012 11:21 AM By Abeca Christian
GLO your comment is a bit out there. It’s not good to be a man hater. Best to be a sin hater instead.

Posted Monday, April 23, 2012 11:23 AM By Kenneth M. Fisher
Pray that Father Kelly, if he is truly innocent, will find peace and joy once again in his homeland, Ireland. If the Diocese really believed he is innocent, they should never pay the blackmailer one damn dime, and should have been willing to fight to the last for this priest. Many Bishops will stand before God and be asked why they did not fight for His beloved priests, and then they will be told where they will spend Eternity! God bless, yours in Their Hearts, Kenneth M. Fisher

Posted Monday, April 23, 2012 11:49 AM By MEL
If the Bishop believed that there was not significant evidence against this Priest, he should not have paid out over $3 MILLION of the parishoneers money from the Diocese. The money belongs to Catholics not the Bishop – who is merely the caretaker of the funds.