Father Michael Kelly has been removed from the clergy after he was held liable on three counts of assault, sexual assault and abuse late Friday afternoon.
The 10-woman, two-man jury took just a matter of hours to determine whether Kelly should be held liable for the charges brought against him. A 37-year-old former altar boy accused the Lockeford priest of sexually assaulting him.
John Manly, the plaintiff’s attorney, said the verdict was gratifying, and that he was happy for his client and his client’s family, but he was also aggravated by the trial.
“It is frustrating that to get justice against a priest and Diocese of Stockton, you have to hire lawyers and go through a civil trial if you were molested as a child,” he said. “(My client) hopes the immediate result of all of this is that (Kelly) is removed and that he is never allowed around a child ever again.”
About an hour after the verdict was read, Bishop Steven Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton issued a statement saying that, in light of the verdict, he is removing Kelly from the clergy.
Kelly has served as pastor of St. Joachim’s Catholic Church in Lockeford since 2004 and continued to serve throughout the trial.
“The diocese’s decision to defend this case was based on a careful analysis of the information available and on a genuine belief that the accusations are not true,” Bishop Stephen Blaire stated in the news release. “Our view of the evidence has not changed, and Father Kelly continues to deny the allegations against him.”
“Nevertheless, it is my belief that the jury verdict must be respected, and I have taken action in accord with our Church’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” he wrote.
According to Tom Beatty, Kelly’s attorney, the verdict was devastating, and those in support of Kelly are in “complete and utter shock.”
“We were expecting a victory today,” he said. “We can’t believe the facts were interpreted the way they were ... with a 25-year-old repressed memory.”
Beatty added that a majority in the court room was crying, including jury members.
Beatty said he continues to believe that Kelly is innocent.
The trial, which began Feb. 29, centered on a 37-year-old Fairfax man, named John TZ Doe in court documents, who sued Kelly for sexually assaulting him when the plaintiff was an altar boy in the mid-1980s at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton. The plaintiff remained unnamed throughout the trial because he was potentially a victim of sexual assault.
Kelly has not been criminally charged because the statute of limitations for criminal complaints had expired by the time the plaintiff told his father about the alleged assault in 2007.
Because it is a civil trial, only nine votes were needed to reach a verdict, Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt told the jury during his instructions early this afternoon on how jurors were to proceed in their deliberations.
McNatt added that the plaintiff’s burden of proof is less strict than a prosecutor’s is during a criminal trial. Jurors need only to determine whether the allegations against Kelly are “more likely to be true or less likely,” the judge said.
To establish whether an assault took place, McNatt said the jury must determine whether Kelly threatened to touch the plaintiff in an offensive or harmful manner and that he was about to carry out the threat.
Here is a summary of McNatt’s other jury instructions:
- It is up to the jury to determine what the facts of the case are.
- What attorneys said during the trial is not to be used as evidence. Only witness testimony is to be used in the decision-making process.
- If the jury determines that the plaintiff was sexually assaulted, the jury must also determine if he experienced severe emotional distress and that Kelly caused it.
The trial will begin its second phase on Wednesday, where the same jury will decide whether the Diocese of Stockton took appropriate action with Kelly when they learned about allegations against him.
Tim Lennon, the San Francisco director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also issued a statement praising the plaintiff.
“We are in awe of the brave victim in this case, who fought for years to expose his abuse and his abuser. Because of his tenacity, the support of his family and friends, and the hard work by his attorneys, a jury found that Father Michael Kelly is a predator. The victim is a hero, who had made sure that what happened to him does not happen to another child,” he stated.
Lennon also blamed the diocese because he said they did not take action when they first “got complaints about Kelly.”
“We also urge diocese officials to reach out to parishioners, apologize to children they put at risk, and beg to anyone who may have been abused by Father Kelly to call the police,” he stated.
News-Sentinel reporter Ross Farrow contributed to this report.