The Rev. Michael Kelly was sued by a Fairfax man, now 37 years old, who claimed he was sexually assaulted by Kelly while an altar boy in the mid-1980s at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton.
A jury of 10 women and two men took only hours to find Kelly liable of three counts of assault, sexual assault and abuse Friday, April 6, ending the first phase of the civil trial, which began Feb. 29.
The plaintiff, listed as “John TZ Doe” in court documents, remained anonymous during the trial because he was potentially a victim of sexual assault.
Kelly wasn’t criminally charged, because the statute of limitations on the alleged crimes had expired by the time the plaintiff revealed the possible assault to his father in 2007.
John Manly, the plaintiff’s attorney, said the verdict was gratifying and he was happy for his client and his client’s family, but he was also aggravated by the trial.
“It is frustrating that to get justice against a priest and Diocese of Stockton, you have to hire lawyers and go through a civil trial if you were molested as a child,” he said. “(My client) hopes the immediate result of all of this is that (Kelly) is removed and that he is never allowed around a child ever again.”
A second phase of the trial began Thursday, April 12, to determine whether the Diocese of Stockton was also liable for how it handled the complaints against Kelly when it gained knowledge of the alleged assault.
A jury will also determine during the second phase the amount of damages the plaintiff will be awarded. Proceedings on Thursday were expected to include opening statements and possible witness testimony during the afternoon in Department 42 on the fourth floor of the San Joaquin County courthouse, 222 E. Weber Ave., in Stockton.
Kelly was a priest in Tracy at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church, 163 W. Eaton Ave., in 1984 for less than a year, according to Monsignor Ivo Rocha, who is head of the parish. Rocha declined to comment any further and referred all questions to the Diocese of Stockton office, which oversees the Tracy parish.
Calls this week to the diocese’s public information office seeking information about Kelly’s time at the Tracy parish were not returned.
Kelly was one of three men to lay the foundation for Tracy Youth Soccer League, but he hasn’t been involved for at least 25 years, said TYSL president Shirley Thompson in an email this week.
“All I ever heard about Father Kelly is he and the above two men helped start the program, and Father Kelly was involved for a very short time,” she stated in the email. “But (he) was not involved when it became an organization.”
About an hour after the verdict was announced Friday, Bishop Steven Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton issued a statement saying that, in light of the verdict, Kelly was immediately removed from the clergy.
Kelly had served as pastor of St. Joachim’s Catholic Church in Lockeford since 2004 and continued to serve during the trial.
“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,” Blaire stated in the news release. “Our view of the evidence has not changed, and Father 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,” he stated.
According to Tom Beatty, Kelly’s attorney, the verdict was devastating, and Kelly’s supporters were in “complete and utter shock.”
“We were expecting a victory today,” he said. “We can’t believe the facts were interpreted the way they were ... with a 25-year-old repressed memory.”
Beatty added that a majority in the courtroom was crying, including jury members.
Beatty said he continued to believe that Kelly was innocent.
In the civil trial, only nine votes were needed to reach a verdict, Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt told the jury during his instructions on how they were to proceed in their deliberations.
The judge added that the plaintiff’s burden of proof must meet a lower standard than that of a prosecutor during a criminal trial. Jurors need only to determine whether the allegations against Kelly are “more likely to be true or less likely,” he said.
Tim Lennon, the San Francisco director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also issued a statement praising the plaintiff.
“We are in awe of the brave victim in this case, who fought for years to expose his abuse and his abuser,” he stated. “Because of his tenacity, the support of his family and friends, and the hard work by his attorneys, a jury found that Father Michael Kelly is a predator. The victim is a hero, who had made sure that what happened to him does not happen to another child.”
• Contact Joel Danoy at email@example.com
• Lodi News-Sentinel reporters Ross Farrow, Katie Nelson and Maggie Creamer contributed to this report.