The Diocese of Stockton is paying $3.75 million to settle a civil sex abuse case involving Father Michael Kelly, who fled to Ireland last week, it was announced Friday.
Also on Friday, the plaintiff, Bay Area resident Travis Trotter, came forward at a press conference at the Waterfront Hotel in Stockton to discuss the case. His identity had previously been protected by court order, as he is a victim of sex abuse.
The diocese will pay Trotter and his attorneys $3.75 million, with $2 million of that amount being paid by the diocese's insurance carriers.
As a result of this agreement, Trotter has agreed to dismiss his lawsuit and not seek any further legal action against the diocese or Kelly.
Trotter said he believes he would not have been able to come forward and identify himself as a victim of sexual abuse when his lawyers' investigation for the civil trial initially began over 4 1/2 years ago.
However, he said coming forward and identifying himself Friday was empowering, providing closure not only for him but perhaps blazing a path for other victims to come forward.
Trotter sat with jurors prior to the press conference, sipping drinks and talking about the case. He reiterated his gratitude to the jury for their work, saying while he had not been able to speak with anyone until Friday, he felt he had an emotional connection to each juror.
"Maybe it was a good thing (the case) took so long," he said at the press conference. "Because now I am strong. I could not have done this when I was a child. I was insecure, I needed attention. And I felt a lot of shame and carried it with me for a long time."
Trotter's attorney, John Manly, stood by him throughout Trotter's address to jurors, his wife and children, and others.
Manly called Trotter a "hero," and his trial a "crucible."
Trotter served in the U.S. Air Force, working his way up to the rank of major. However, the emotional damage caused him to leave the Air Force with an honorable discharge.
Trotter then went on to become a pilot for Southwest Airlines, but eventually lost his job because medication he was prescribed to combat his depression was not allowed to be used on the job, per corporate policy.
"(The defense) tried everything to run him over," Manly said, "and this was a close case. But at the end of the day, we won because Travis told the truth."
Trotter said he recovered memories of the sexual abuse only after the statute of limitations had expired, so he sued in civil court.
The trial lasted nearly two months before a jury found Kelly liable for sexual assault and abuse April 6. The jury deliberated for 4 1/2 hours hours before reaching a decision.
Within hours of the jury's decision, the diocese removed Kelly from his position with St. Joachim Catholic Church in Lockeford.
Kelly fled to Ireland last week, stating his health was in serious decline and that he wanted to be with his family.
According to Bishop Stephen Blaire, Kelly told him in an email that he did not plan on returning to the United States, despite Blaire's urging him to do so.
Despite the trial's decision, many members of St. Joachim's Catholic Church still support the priest who led them for the past eight years.
Ralph Saxton of Modesto called the trial's conclusion "ludicrous."
Saxton worked with Kelly in the Modesto Youth Soccer league for several years and said he never heard a mention of inappropriate conduct.
"I had people talking to me all the time about their kids. Out of all those thousands of children, not a whisper ever came up," he said. "Somebody, some parent, something would have come up and they would have told me, 'We've got to meet, we've got a little problem here.'"
Jerry Ball of Stockton has known Kelly for 30 years and was married by him in a home ceremony, though he and his wife are not Catholic.
He does not believe the plaintiff's story, despite the court's decision.
"I question his motives. I firmly believe he's not telling the truth. He's caught up in 'Where's the money from the Catholic Church?' and using Father Kelly as a conduit to get the money. That's a very bad feeling to have, I know, but I am as certain as I'm living that (Kelly) didn't do this," he said.
Joey Piscitelli, Northern California's regional director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said reactions of emphatic support are common among parishioners whose priests have been found liable of sexual assault.
"The faithful get so attached and trusting, the horror is too much for them to take. Even after (the suspect) is guilty or convicted, they still don't believe it," he said.
The settlement puts an end to litigation that began more than 4 1/2 years ago, a press release by the diocese stated Friday.
Of the $3.75 million to be paid to Trotter and his attorneys, $2 million will come from liability insurance, said Sister Terry Davis of the Diocese of Stockton.
The remaining $1.75 million will come from the diocese's reserves, according to Blaire. The reserves have been depleted over the years, Blaire said, so coming up with the money needed in the settlement will be difficult.
However, Blaire said he is at peace with the way the case has transpired, saying that while he believed Father Kelly to be innocent, every person deserves their day in court.
Davis said the future of the diocese remains bright despite the jury's ruling.
"Not to be too pious about it, but we are people of faith," she said. "We will move forward with this, and we will learn from it. Because that is what is important."
Reporter Sara Jane Pohlman contributed to this story.
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.