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Former altar boy testifies he punched Father Michael Kelly

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Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2012 6:27 pm | Updated: 9:29 am, Thu Apr 3, 2014.

A Tracy man who was 13 years old at the time said he punched Father Michael Kelly in the face and apparently broke his jaw after Kelly allegedly tickled him too hard, according to testimony Thursday in San Joaquin County Superior Court.

Joe Bacchetti, 45, testified during Kelly's civil trial that Kelly tickled him so hard during the 1979 incident that it began to hurt him.

Kelly didn't stop tickling him even though Bacchetti said he asked him to stop, until Bacchetti finally punched the priest in the face.

Although Kelly continually tickled Bacchetti, the Tracy resident said he was never abused sexually, nor did he observe Kelly sexually abuse anyone else.

The day after the incident, Bacchetti said, Kelly told him that his jaw was broken.

Bacchetti's testimony took place Thursday in Kelly's civil trial in San Joaquin County Superior Court. The plaintiff, 37, whose name is being withheld by the News-Sentinel because he is a potential sexual assault victim, has sued Kelly and the Stockton Diocese on allegations that Kelly of sexually abusing him when the plaintiff was an altar boy at Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton in the 1980s.

Kelly hasn't been arrested or charged with criminal sexual misconduct.

Kelly has been pastor of St. Joachim's Catholic Church in Lockeford since 2004 and previously served in Stockton, Sonora, Tracy, Modesto and Ceres.

In the trial's second day, the three-man, nine-woman jury heard testimony from Bacchetti and from Arthur Garbiso Jr., who was an altar boy with the plaintiff in the 1980s and now lives in Hawaii.

During testimony Thursday afternoon, Bacchetti said that Kelly, a young priest at the time, typically invited himself to dinner at parishioners' homes so that they could get to know each other. It was during one of these visits that the tickling incident reportedly took place.

Kelly had dinner with Bacchetti, his sister and their parents at a cousin's house in Tracy. After dinner, Kelly asked Bacchetti, his sister and male cousin to go into a bedroom and closed the door.

"He asked us to lay on the floor face down," Bacchetti said. "He started tickling us."

Kelly told Bacchetti the next day at St. Bernard School that the boy had broken Kelly's jaw, Bacchetti testified.

"I said, 'You shouldn't have been touching me,'" he said.

About 10 years ago, when Bacchetti's son was attending St. Bernard School, Bacchetti said he believes he told school officials that he didn't want Kelly around his son.

After Bacchetti stated that Kelly didn't touch him in the "genital area," Vince Finaldi, the plaintiff's attorney, asked him, "Have you had any training on sexual abuse?"

"No," Bacchetti replied.

"Have you had any training on how to spot a pedophile?" Finaldi asked.

"No," Bacchetti said.

In other testimony, Garbiso, 38, who lives in Hawaii, told about being an altar boy with the plaintiff in the 1980s at Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton.

Kelly and other priests would occasionally pull one to three altar boys out of class at the church's parochial to help serve Mass, light candles and make other preparations. On weekdays, altar boys were used to help with funerals, Garbiso said.

Garbiso added that Kelly occasionally pulled the plaintiff out of class for an hour or more and spent private time in the church rectory, but Garbiso said he didn't know if any sexual misconduct took place.

Garbiso said he heard about Kelly's alleged misconduct after his father mailed him a news story about the allegations, and after the lawsuit against Kelly was filed in 2008, Garbiso testified that he got a phone call from a man saying he was a private investigator.

Garbiso said he became suspicious of the caller because he volunteered a lot of information about the lawsuit, seemingly on the diocese's behalf, and made disparaging remarks about John Manly's law firm, which represents the plaintiff.

"I would characterize it as too much information in a professional practice," Garbiso said about the caller. "My feeling was that he was investigating (the plaintiff). I didn't trust him."

Garbiso testified that Kelly frequently roughhoused with children, including headlocks.

"I didn't see anything I thought was inappropriate," Garbiso said.

The trial will continue at 10 a.m. today at San Joaquin County Superior Court, 222 E. Weber Ave., Department 42, Stockton. Further testimony is scheduled for Tuesday through Friday next week.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 3:44 am on Mon, Mar 5, 2012.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    Larry... am I wrong in saying that the parents were there at the time the tickling took place? If the parents were there, why would you think something bad was happening. I sincerely do not get it. Most people who abuse others ( as I understand it) do it in private where witness to the abuse would be avoided.

  • Larry Hamilton posted at 9:51 am on Sat, Mar 3, 2012.

    Larry Hamilton Posts: 50

    Father Kelly tickles boys how normal is that?



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