Trial under way, former priest leaves U.S.

April 17, 2012 at 9:51 PM

STOCKTON, Calif., April 17 (UPI) -- A former Catholic priest found liable of sexual abuse has left California for his native Ireland in the midst of his civil trial, church officials said.

Michael Kelly, most recently of St. Joachim Church in Lockeford, Calif., said in a letter to Bishop of Stockton (Calif.) Stephen Blaire the trial is causing him health problems and he wants to be surrounded by family members who love him unconditionally, the Stockton Record reported Tuesday.

"By the time you read this letter I will be in Ireland with my family," said the letter, dated April 15 and received by the diocese Monday. "I am sorry for any difficulty this may cause the Diocese, but my health can't take it anymore."

Blaire said he has tried to appeal to Kelly to return to the United States.

"I have tried to reach (Father) Kelly by e-mail and by phone to implore him to return and see the trial through to its completion," Blaire wrote in a statement.

A civil jury found Kelly liable of sexual assault April 6 and he was scheduled to testify Tuesday in a phase of the trial focusing on the Stockton Diocese's handling of the incident, the newspaper said.

More than 500 plaintiffs brought a sex abuse complaint against the diocese resulting in a $660 million settlement.

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