Catholic priest placed on leave

He denies allegation he sexually abused boy in the mid-1980s

October 12, 2007 

The Rev. Michael Kelly, pastor of St. Joachim Catholic Church in Lockeford, has been placed on administrative leave after being accused of abusing a 10-year-old boy in the mid- 1980s.

Kelly, 56, has served at a number of parishes in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Tuolumne counties, including Our Lady of Fatima in Modesto, St. Jude's in Ceres and St. Patrick's in Sonora.

During the mid-1970s, Kelly also played an instrumental role in the creation of the Modesto Youth Soccer Association.

"We categorically deny the allegation," said Albert Ellis, a Stockton attorney who said he has known Kelly for more than 30 years. "It's absurd. It never happened. The guy has a stellar record. He's extremely well-liked and well-respected."

Bishop Stephen Blaire, spiritual leader of the Catholic Diocese of Stockton, made the announcement in a brief statement issued Thursday.

"The Diocese of Stockton is in receipt of an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against Father Michael Kelly," the statement reads, "which allegedly took place in the Stockton home of the accuser's parents sometime between 1984 and 1986.

"Upon receipt of this allegation, Father Kelly was placed on administrative leave while the matter is being investigated."

The decades-old charge was referred to the Stockton Police Department, which, according to Blaire, is diocesan policy.

Detective Roseann Clark confirmed that the allegation was recently referred to Stockton police.

"The matter has been assigned to a detective and is under investigation," she said.

Whether Kelly would face possible criminal charges was not clear late Thursday.

Ellis, who is serving as Kelly's legal counsel, said he thought it was unlikely Kelly would be charged because the alleged incident happened so long ago. He said Kelly first learned of the allegation about 10 days ago, when he was contacted by Blaire.

"We've had no contact from law enforcement," Ellis said. "I've heard nothing from any attorney. We have not been advised of any (pending) lawsuit. At this point, we don't have anything to respond to other than this press release from the diocese."

Ellis said he was surprised that Kelly had been placed on administrative leave after sharing with Blaire the results of a voluntary polygraph examination.

That examination, sometimes referred to as a lie-detector test, showed Kelly was being truthful, according to Ellis, when the priest denied he had abused the boy or any other child during his 35-year career as a priest. Kelly, a native of Ireland, began his priesthood in 1973 at Our Lady of Fatima.

"He (Kelly) is completely dismayed that someone would make such an allegation," Ellis said. "It never happened. And he's prepared to do whatever is necessary to clear his good name."

The Stockton diocese has 33 parishes and 12 missions in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Calaveras, Tuolumne, Alpine and Mono counties.

The diocese has experience with sexual abuse charges against priests.

In 1993, the Rev. Oliver O'Grady was convicted of molesting two brothers and sentenced to 14 years in state prison. In a 1998 civil trial, a Stockton jury ordered the diocese to pay $30 million to the abused brothers; the award later was cut to $7.5 million.

O'Grady, who also served in parishes in Turlock and Hughson in addition to Stockton, Lodi and San Andreas, later admitted molesting more than 20 children in California during his 30-year career in the state. He was paroled in 2000 and deported to his native Ireland.

In March 2005, the diocese agreed to pay $3.6 million to settle claims by two other alleged O'Grady victims from Lodi. Four additional civil lawsuits against O'Grady are pending from his time in the diocese.

The diocese asks anyone with information about the allegation against Kelly to contact Victim

Assistance Coordinator Sister Barbara Thiella at 1105 N. Lincoln St., Stockton, or call 466-0636, ext. 604.

Bee staff writer Michael G. Mooney can be reached at mmooney@modbee.com or 578-2384.

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