The lawyer for a man who contends he was abused by Father Michael Kelly of Lockeford says the man is a former U.S. Air Force pilot who had to give up his career because he was haunted by repressed memories of the abuse.
The lawyer also contended during opening statements Friday that Kelly has a history of inappropriately touching children dating back to the late 1970s.
Kelly's lawyer, however, said there is no way the popular parish priest could be guilty of such abuse.
During Friday's court session, Kelly sat only feet from the plaintiff, who contends the priest began abusing him when he was in the fifth grade at Annunciation School in Stockton. Kelly has vigorously proclaimed his innocence. At least 20 supporters appeared in court on his behalf Friday.
Kelly has never been arrested, charged or convicted criminally. The abuse charge is being heard before a jury in civil court.
In his opening statement, John Manly said his client, the plaintiff, had a successful career as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Manly spoke of his courage and ability to "get the job done."
The plaintiff worked his way up to the rank of major. But about five years ago, he began suffering from depression after memories began resurfacing of alleged sexual abuse by Kelly, Manly said.
The emotional damage of the abuse caused the victim to leave the Air Force with an honorable discharge, Manly said. He eventually lost his job as a pilot with Southwest Airlines because medication he was prescribed to combat his depression was not allowed to be used on the job, per corporate policy.
The man had lost his childhood dream of flying jets of all shapes and sizes, Manly said, and even more so, the victim had lost his childhood altogether as a result of the abuse.
"This is a case about innocence stolen while looking for spiritual guidance," said Manly.
As Manly described the abuse, which he said the plaintiff claims occurred between 1985 and 1987 while he was attending Annunciation School, the alleged victim began to sob.
Though his lawyers tried to console the man, he was eventually led out of the courtroom, the judge giving for a temporary recess so the man could compose himself.
"For the child, it is as if they are being molested by God himself," Manly said during his opening statements.
Manly said Kelly has a history of inappropriately touching children. He referred to incidents in which he said Kelly roughhoused with children in a sexually suggestive way. That touching, he said, stretched back as far as 1979.
But defense attorneys presented a far different picture.
Kelly is not only innocent, attorney for the Stockton Diocese James Goodman said, but it was possible the plaintiff was making up memories.
These false recollections, Goodman said, were indicative of a hard time in the man's childhood, but the plaintiff is blaming the wrong person.
Goodman said a tough life in a broken home was to blame for the victim's depression and for possibly creating an idea that somehow, sometime, he had been molested.
But Kelly was not the abuser, Goodman said.
Kelly's attorney, Thomas Beatty, said it could in no way be Kelly who is guilty of hurting the victim, or any other child.
Beatty said Kelly was and still is a popular priest among church-goers, known to be able to connect with anyone.
According to Beatty, Kelly sends five to 10 birthday cards each day to parishioners he has known over the years.
How could a man who is so caring and generous commit such heinous crimes, Beatty asked.
"(Kelly) saw children as the next generation of the Catholic Church," he said. "And while some people have been guilty of (molestation), not this priest, not this time."
Lawyers said evidence and testimony in coming days will deal extensively with "repressed memory syndrome," which contends that people can recall events years before that may have been lost because of severe trauma.
The trial is set to resume Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Department 42 in Stockton.
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.