Former Catholic priest Michael Kelly has fled the country for Ireland, amid an ongoing court case involving the sexual abuse of a former parishioner.
Kelly, who was scheduled to testify today in a second phase of the San Joaquin County civil court trial, announced his departure in a Sunday letter to Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire. Blaire said he received the letter Monday.
It reads, in part:
“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 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. ...”
Kelly on April 6 was found liable on three counts — assault, sexual assault and abuse — for the molestation of a one-time Stockton parish student in the mid-1980s. The civil case was based largely on the now-37-year-old Fairfax man’s recovered memories.
Kelly, who served in several parishes during his career, including St. Patrick’s in Sonora and St. Andrew’s in San Andreas, was scheduled to testify today in a second phase of the case against the Stockton Diocese. The plaintiff’s attorneys claim church officials for years covered up allegations of Kelly’s abuse.
The victim’s attorney, Newport Beach-based John Manly, said he thought the timing of Kelly’s flight was suspicious.
“Father Kelly did not go to Ireland without help and I don’t think anyone is shocked or surprised at the diocese,” he said this morning. “They continue to pay this man and I have serious doubts about their story. … I think that when this trial is over there needs to be a law enforcement investigation over this entire matter.”
Kelly is already under investigation in Calaveras County for allegations of abusing a former altar boy at St. Andrew’s Parish.
In a prepared statement Monday afternoon, Blaire said the diocese notified Calaveras County authorities that Kelly had left the country.
Calaveras Sheriff Gary Kuntz, whose department has been investigating since September, could not be reached for comment.
Blaire said Monday he has not been in communication with Kelly since he received the Sunday letter.
“I have tried to reach Fr. Kelly by email and by phone to implore him to return and see the trial through to its completion,” the bishop’s statement said.
Following the April 6 verdict, Blaire said he removed Kelly from the clergy but maintained the priest’s innocence. Manly, who didn’t think Kelly’s flight would affect his ongoing civil case, said, “innocent people don’t run.”