Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt sent the jury and attorneys home Tuesday morning after word spread that Father Michael Kelly returned to his native Ireland.
Kelly, pastor the past eight years at St. Joachim’s Catholic Church in Lockeford, was subpoenaed to testify on Tuesday in a clergy abuse trial in which the jury has already found him civilly liable.
McNatt announced to the jury around 10:40 a.m. that he needs to think over how to proceed for the rest of the trial for two reasons — Kelly’s departure to Ireland and a front-page headline in The Record newspaper in Stockton that announced Kelly leaving for Ireland.
Jurors are forbidden from reading news coverage about the case that is before them. The problem, McNatt said, is that jurors saw The Record’s headline because the newspaper has a rack between the jury’s gathering room and the courthouse cafeteria. It would have been very hard for the jury to not see the headline about Kelly, McNatt said.
“There are unexpected events in every trial,” McNatt told the jury. “Michael Kelly has not made himself available for the rest of this trial.”
McNatt reminded jurors to avoid reading news coverage, Internet postings, tweets and other forms of social media in regard to the Kelly trial.
Monsignor Richard Ryan, vicar general for the Stockton Diocese, is scheduled to testify at 10 a.m. today. He and Kelly were scheduled to take the witness stand on Tuesday.
On April 6, Kelly was found liable of sexually assaulting a former Stockton altar boy in the mid-1980s. The trial’s second phase, taking place now, is to determine whether the Stockton Diocese is also liable and to award damages to the plaintiff.
The plaintiff’s name is being withheld by court order because the jury determined that he is a sexual assault victim.
Kelly sent a letter with Sunday’s date to Stockton Diocese Bishop Stephen Blaire, telling him that he had already left for Ireland because he needed to address health issues and be with his family to deal with the stress he has endured in the trial, which began on March 29.
Blaire placed Kelly on administrative leave with pay as soon as the jury rendered its verdict on April 6. Now that Kelly’s left the country, the diocese will no longer pay Kelly, according to diocese spokeswoman Sister Terry Davis. Kelly will not receive health benefits from the diocese because its insurance policy doesn’t cover health care outside the United States, Davis said. Davis declined to disclose Kelly’s salary.
Kelly lived in a diocese-provided rectory, or living quarters, on the St. Joachim’s grounds. Blaire required him to move out after the jury’s verdict was rendered.
A church administrator at St. Joachim’s was clearing furniture out of the rectory on Monday afternoon. He was not aware of Kelly’s departure to Ireland at the time and declined to comment.
After conferring with attorneys for the plaintiff, Kelly and the diocese, McNatt decided to send them home to think about how he should proceed with the trial.
News-Sentinel staff writer Sara Jane Pohlman contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.