former Father Michael Kelly
STOCKTON, CA - A Diocese of Stockton priest recently found guilty of three counts of child molestation and under investigation for a separate alleged similar crime has gone back to Ireland.
Father Michael Kelly, who served at St. Joachim's Catholic Church in Lockeford, was found liable in a civil trial on April 6 of three counts of child sex abuse involving a former altar boy at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton in the mid-1980s.
With the judgment, Kelly, who had continued to serve at St. Joachim Catholic Parish in Lockeford, was removed from his duties by Stockton Bishop Stephen E. Blaire.
Anttorney Rebecca Rhoads, who represents the now 37year old altar boy Kelly was found to have molested said she is not sure how the second half of the civil trial will proceed.
"The jury in this case returned a verdict against Father Kelly on all claims, essentially finding that Father Kelly viciously sexually abused my client," said Rhoads, adding, "he's just running away."
In a separate case, Kelly has been under a criminal investigation since last September on allegations he molested an altar boy at St. Andrew's Catholic Church in San Andreas in the early 2000s.
Rhoads, who is not connected to the San Andreas case, said Kelly was aware of that investigation.
"He understood quite clearly that Calaveras County was investigating him very seriously. He could and would most likely face criminal charges," Rhoads said.
Parishoners at Father Kelly's former church in Lockeford have strongly supported him.
"And we feel that he was innocent and we are just very saddened and disappointed," said parishoner Janet Bange.
Blaire said he received a letter Monday afternoon from Kelly informing him he was in Ireland. Kelly, who maintains his innocence, said the strain he was under was destroying his health and he needed to be with family. He is from Ireland.
READ: Fr. Michael Kelly letter, April 15, 2012
Blaire said he has tried to reach Kelly to urge him to return.
Carlos Chavez, a member of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said he questions whether Father Kelly will ever be brought back to face justice in California.
"The Catholic Church is one of the most powerful institutions in history, yet when it comes to trying to find their pedophile priests that fled, it usually says its hands are tied."