Craig Cassidy, The Union Democrat

Calaveras County law enforcement officials Tuesday said they were still deciding what to do about the Sunday flight of former Catholic priest Michael Kelly, who is under investigation for accusations he abused a former altar boy at a San Andreas church.

Sheriff Gary Kuntz said he was meeting with investigators and representatives from the Calaveras County District Attorney's Office to discuss options, including possible extradition.

In the meantime, he and Sgt. Dave Sewell said the department will not comment further on the matter.

District Attorney Barbara Yook said the case is still under investigation and had not been formally forwarded by the sheriff to her department, which would decide if criminal charges are warranted.

Kelly was supposed to testify in San Joaquin County Superior Court on Tuesday in a separate civil case involving a former Stockton parishioner he allegedly molested.

He was found liable April 6 of three allegations involving the sexual abuse of the one-time Church of the Annunciation student.

The case, brought four years ago by a now-37-year-old Fairfax man, relied heavily on "retrieved" memories.

The second phase of the trial, at which Kelly was supposed to testify Tuesday, involves allegations the diocese covered up Kelly's alleged abuse of parishioners.

Kelly informed Bishop Stephen Blaire, in a letter Blaire says he received Monday, of his sudden weekend departure to Ireland.

He claimed he was suffering from health problems aggravated by the civil case against him.

Kelly is 62 and suffers from ulcers, Kelly's attorney Thomas Beatty, of Walnut Creek, confirmed.

"He wants to die in Ireland with his family," Beatty said, though he was unclear if the ulcers were life-threatening.

Beatty said Kelly, his client of four years, informed him by phone Monday that he does not intend to return to the United States.

He said he encouraged Kelly to return, and also maintained his client's innocence.

"Kelly already testified for two days. It's not like he just fled," said Beatty, adding he was caught off guard by the weekend's developments.

"I will assure you I was as surprised as everyone - from the bishop to his supporters. I expected to see him Tuesday morning like everyone else."

Attorney John Manly, who represents the Stockton victim, and whose firm also represents the San Andreas man, questioned the logistics and timing of Kelly's departure to Ireland on the eve of his scheduled testimony.

"It's astounding. I've never seen anything like this," he said. "If he's stressed, consider what it's like to be 10 and be raped by your priest."

Manly said he is unsure if any effort will be made tobring Kelly back to testify.

Warrants aren't issued for failing to appear in civil court, Beatty noted.

Kelly, over nearly four decades in the Stockton Diocese, worked at San Andreas' St. Andrews Church in addition to Sonora's St. Patrick's, Stockton's Annunciation Church and, most recently, Lathrop's St. Joachim's Catholic Church.

Calaveras County became interested in Kelly after a former St. Andrews altar boy, now in his 20s, alleged Kelly had molested him between 2000 and 2002, when Kelly worked at the church. The allegations were forwarded to the sheriff by Manly's Newport Beach law firm, which specializes in priest abuse cases. The firm has not filed a suit.

Beatty said he hasn't heard anything about the Calaveras criminal investigation in several months and didn't believe it had anything to do with Kelly's decision to leave the country.

"Father Kelly felt like he had nothing left and so he left the country," he said.

Priest-molestation claims have dogged the Catholic Church for more than a decade, with one of the highest profile cases also involving the Stockton Diocese.

That case centered on Oliver O'Grady, a former priest who admitted to sexually abusing more than two dozen children while working in Northern California.

In 1993, O'Grady was convicted in criminal court of four counts of lewd acts involving two minors, Turlock brothers Joh and James Howard, who said they were molested several times between 1978 and 1991 while O'Grady was at Sacred Heart Church.

He was sentenced to 14 years in prison and was later deported to Ireland, where he lives today.

The diocese in 1998 was ordered to pay the brothers $30 million in a landmark legal settlement. The amount was later reduced to $7 million.

The case showed the diocese and a succession of bishops were aware of O'Grady's activities as early as 1976 and addressed the matter by assigning him to counselingand shuffling him to different churches, including St. Andrew's in San Andreas.