Some readers have raised questions about our coverage of the civil sex abuse trial of Father Michael Kelly of Lockeford.
It’s been a difficult journalistic assignment for reporter Ross Farrow, and we’ve had many discussions about our coverage.
Here are the major questions from readers, and our responses:
Why are you covering this trial?
Kelly, a prominent and well-respected member of the community, stands accused of serious charges which he has adamantly denied. The plaintiff deserves a day in court, but certainly Kelly does, too. His reputation and standing in the community are on the line. The stakes are high. Each day, supporters from Kelly’s parish in Lockeford are in court. The case is being played out against the horrible backdrop of the Father Oliver O’Grady abuse case of several years ago. We feel that presenting a fair and thorough account of this trial would be of both value and interest to the community. Others, of course, are free to disagree. We know we would certainly be criticized for not covering the trial as well.
Why are you not naming the plaintiff, since you are naming Father Kelly?
The court has not released the name of the plaintiff and we are respecting that decision. The plaintiff was allowed to file the case anonymously under state law designed to encourage sex abuse victims to step forward. We have in fact considered the ethical and to some extent, the legal ramifications of naming the plaintiff. We’ve considered the fact that he has not in fact been named a victim by police or prosecutors. We’ve considered the possibility that the jury may find that the plaintiff is not a sex abuse victim after all. But as the old phrase goes, you cannot unring the bell. So imagine that we named the plaintiff now, only to fnd later that the jury does indeed determine that he suffered abuse. The damage would be done. So we are witholding the name, though I suppose it is possible we could revisit that decision as the case evolves.
How can you justify describing the alleged sexual abuse in a family newspaper?
We’ve struggled with this. Some of the testimony is quite graphic and specific. We’ve tried to relate the nature of the alleged abuse in terms that are generally descriptive but not overly graphic. That’s a difficult and admittedly subjective process.
Why are you only giving only the plaintiff’s side of the case?
The plaintiff goes first in court, and the defense will come later. So Kelly and his defense team will have a chance to offer his side of the story, and we’ll reflect that. In the meantime, we have consistently emphasized that the charges are civil, not criminal, in nature.
If you’d like to offer comments on our coverage, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 209-369-7035.