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Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Father Michael Kelly Repressed Memory Sexual Molestation Suit

     In 2008 a 31-year-old major in the U. S. Air Force Reserves brought a sexual molestation suit against Father Michael Kelly, the 58-year-old pastor of St. Joachim's Catholic Church in Lockeford, California. The plaintiff, referred to as John TZ Doe pursuant to a court order not to reveal his identify, didn't remember being molested by Father Kelly until 2006. Although the statute of limitations ruled out criminal charges a civil suit could be brought against the priest and the church.

     In the lawsuit John Doe accused Father Kelly of molesting him in the 1980s when he was a 10-year-old altar boy at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton, California. In September 2007, following the recovery of his "repressed memory," John Doe had filed a complaint with Bishop Stephen Blaine of the Stockton Diocese. Father Kelly, placed on administrative leave, denied the allegations. Following an internal investigation by diocesan officials, Father Kelly, in March 2008 was re-instated at St. Joachim's Catholic Church.

     The civil trial got underway on February 29, 2012 in the San Joaquin County Superior Court. Judge Bob McNatt ruled that the jury could not be told that Father Kelly was the subject of a pending sexual molestation investigation being conducted by the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office. According to the criminal complaint Father Kelly had molested a boy during the period 2000-2002 while he was pastor of St. Andrew's Parish in San Andreas, California. (In 2004 Father Kelly was transferred to St. Joachim's in Stockton. Prior to his tenure in San Andreas Father Kelly had been pastor at churches in Sonora, Tracy, Modesto and Ceres, California.)

     Plaintiff's attorney John Manly put on several witnesses who as boys in the defendant's churches had been repeatedly tickled by the priest who also wrestled with them. According to this testimony Father Kelly had sexually touched and fondled them during these bouts of roughhousing.

     John Doe took the stand and spoke of being molested by the defendant on a walking trail outside of Stockton, in a motel room and in the priest's living quarters. In the motel room, the plaintiff said he had fallen asleep and when he awoke he and the priest were in bed naked. At the defendant's living quarters Father Kelly had removed the witness' clothing. John Doe said he then fell asleep and when he awoke he was fully dressed. (From this testimony, the plaintiff was asking jurors to infer that he had been drugged.) Pointing at Father Kelly the witness yelled, "You raped me, I was just a kid!"

     On March 20, 2012, San Francisco psychiatrist Anlee Kuo testified that in evaluating the reliability of John Doe's recovered memories of events that occurred when he was 10-years-old, she administered several tests that measured the validity of his accounts. The results of these tests convinced Dr. Kuo that his memories were accurate. Dr. Kuo pointed out that the repressed memory phenomenon was recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. Moreover, she said that repressed memory was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to the psychiatrist, Father Kelly's sexual molestation has caused the plaintiff, as a 35-year-old adult, to suffer from depression and alcohol abuse.

     The next day defense attorney Thomas Beatty put Father Kelly on the stand. The priest told the jury that he had not sexually molested the plaintiff. On cross-examination, John Manly, the plaintiff's attorney, asked Father Kelly this: "At any time did you get under a blanket with [the plaintiff]?"

     "Of course not," came the reply.

     "Did you ever take him into the bathroom to disrobe?"

     "I absolutely deny it."

     "Did you ever take the [plaintiff] on a hike?"

     "I did not," answered the priest.

     Dr. J. Alexander Bodkin of Harvard University took the stand for the defense. Dr. Bodkin told the jury that repressed memories--also known as dissociative memory--is not a scientifically proven phenomenon. "Peoples' memories don't get better with time," he said. "They get worse. The plaintiff's story is difficult to believe."

     Following the lunch break on Friday, April 6, 2012 the case went to the jury of 10 women and 2 men. Because this was a civil trial only 9 votes were required for the jury to reach a verdict. Moreover, the standard of proof in a civil trial is less rigorous than in a criminal proceeding that requires guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil trial a plaintiff merely has to establish his case by a "preponderance of the evidence." That is the plaintiff's allegations against the defendant are more likely to be true than not.

     After deliberating for a day the jury found Father Michael Kelly liable for three of the sexual molestation allegations. The second phase of the trial, with the same jury, would focus on the dioceses' handling of child abuse allegations against Father Kelly and other priests. One of the other priests was Father Oliver O'Grady who had been convicted of child molestation and possession of child pornography. The O'Grady case had cost the Diocese of Stockton millions of dollars in civil case settlements in more than 20 lawsuits. The jury also had the task of determining how much money to award John Doe.

     Immediately after the verdict the Bishop removed Father Kelly from the ministry Three hours later, speaking to 100 of his parishioners at St. Joachim's Church in Lockeford, the ex-priest said, "The charges against me are untrue." When Michael Kelly reminded his supporters that he had passed two polygraph tests, they cheered. Because polygraph test results were not admissible in court the jury did not know this. The jurors also didn't know about the ongoing sexual molestation investigation involving Michael Kelly in Calaveras County. Under the laws of evidence, jurors, in making their decisions, are kept in the dark about a lot of things.

     Michael Kelly, on April 15, 2015 flew to his native Ireland for what he described as needed medical treatment. He was under subpoena to testify the next day in the second phase of the lawsuit in Stockton. John Manly, the plaintiff's attorney, said that he believed the ex-priest received help in leaving the country. Kelly's attorney, Tom Beatty, said that he was "saddened by Father Kelly's illness and his devastation brought on by the finding of the repressed memory claim of abuse. I believe it is important for Father Kelly to be present during the damages phase of the case but he feels he has lost everything already. I hope to talk to him shortly." John Manly said that whoever helped Kelly to escape out of the country could be arrested for aiding and abetting. (Nothing came of this threat.)

     In August 2015, the Stockton Diocese settled the lawsuit for $3.75 million.


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  2. I am a clergy child abuse victim myself. I sued the Catholic church for sexual abuse, and won the case also. Although my case was not a "repressed memory case", the church hired several expert psychologists to say that I was not telling the truth. This is a typical scenario in clergy abuse cases. I have met several dozen victims of clergy abuse who had repressed memory, and did not sue the church. I do not believe a person would invent a story of child sexual abuse, and go through the horrific trauma of a court trial, for any reason other than justice, and truth. No catholic priest in California accused of sex abuse has ever won a jury trial, and this fact goes toward the credibility of the plaintiffs, supporting my claim that(so far) unbiased juries believe in the victims credibilty 100% of the time.

    Joey Piscitelli SNAP-Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests 925-262-3699

  3. I knew this “priest” very well and know the victim who won the case. That deviant predator ate dinner at our home on two occasions and I know he was sizing me up as potential prey. We were alone in my bedroom both times and through our conversations he learned I wasnt a suitable victim. If there is a hell this child rapist will surely have front row seat, fore he has paid his dues and served his master well. FU fmk FU. Side note, He was the most sensational trivial pursuit player I ever met. Truly cunning, captivating and beguiling. May you be raped by horses with barbed cocks a flame eternal.