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Lockeford Priest Held Liable Of Sexual Assault In Civil Suit Flees To Ireland

STOCKTON (CBS13) - A Catholic priest who was held liable in a civil trial earlier this month of sexually molesting an altar boy in the 1980s has fled the country, according to the Stockton Diocese.

Father Michael Kelly informed Bishop Stephen E. Blaire in a letter that Kelly had returned to Ireland to be with his family, citing his declining health after he was found liable in the civil trial on three counts of sexually assaulting a now 37-year-old Bay Area man.

Father Michael Kelly
Father Michael Kelly (credit: Modesto Bee)

The second phase of the civil trial, to determine if the Diocese of Stockton took appropriate action with Kelly when it learned about allegations against him, is still ongoing.

"This afternoon, I was stunned to receive a letter from Fr. Michael Kelly informing me he had returned to Ireland in the midst of the civil trial in which he is a defendant," Blaire said in a statement released to the media Monday. "We notified opposing counsel in the civil trial as well as law enforcement authorities in Calaveras County, where a criminal investigation has been underway since September.

"I have tried to reach Fr. Kelly by email and by phone to implore him to return and see the trial through to its completion."

Kelly said in his letter that "the stress of it all is causing my health to decline daily. Since the verdict I am on two kinds of medication for my stomach, I am having chronic bowel problems, I am getting an average of one hour of sleep a night, and I am losing weight at an alarming rate. I hope you will understand that right now I need to be with my family, whose support and love for me is unconditional."

Kelly had served as pastor of St. Joachim's Catholic Church in Lockeford since 2004 but was removed after the civil verdict April 6. He was sued by the man for sexually assaulting him when the plaintiff was an altar boy in the mid-1980s at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton.

A native of Ireland, Kelly joined the Stockton Diocese in 1973.

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